As Pomona continues to draft a plan that would allow medicinal and recreational marijuana businesses, city leaders are still divided on key aspects of it.
Should applicants be allowed to contact council members during the process? Can a lottery system create a fair application process?
“What I’m looking for is an objective process and a very transparent (application) process. Part of the process is that you establish really high standards from the get-go and you have an objective lottery process,” Mayor Tim Sandoval said.
The council did agree on these operational standards: A business must have a waiting room to ensure no one lines form outside, no consumption on site, no products that resemble children’s candy and no signs advertising the operation.
The council all agreed to create a review committee for the application process. It would be comprised of members who don’t currently hold office or are on a committee or commission.
At the June 18 meeting, council members indicated they could allow between four or five businesses. Two permits would be retail operators, two for micro-business and at least one for a laboratory.
Best method of approval
During Monday night’s discussion, the council had differing views on numerous segments of a checklist generated by the city attorney’s office.
For example, Councilman Rubio Gonzalez and Sandoval said it would be ideal to have a merit-based system that narrows the pool of applicants. Once the field has been reduced, the city could select the license holders through a lottery system. The need for such a system would depend on how many applicants there are and how many permits are available, Gonzalez said.
Council members Gina Escobar and Robert Torres disagreed with using a lottery system because it’s not merit-based. They would prefer permits be issued based on land use approvals, like other businesses, either through a development agreement or permits requiring various conditions be met.
“If you’re trying to get the best operator, (a lottery is) inherently not creating that,” Escobar said, later adding: “We still have a long ways to go and I’m sure it’s going to come back five or six times.”
On that part, Sandoval agreed. “It’s clear that we’re going to have disagreements but its part of this rather long tedious process,” he said.
Torres prefers the land use approval route because it is a legally-binding contract and businesses could be held accountable in court for meeting conditions the city requires.
“There are legal ramifications if they’re not meeting certain standards,” he said.
Who can contact whom
Councilwoman Adriana Robledo said she doesn’t want applicants to have contact with individual decision-makers during the process. Instead, applicants should contact a designated individual or entity regarding any questions.
Torres, however, said there’s only so much one can learn about an individual or their business on paper.
“Sometimes, it comes down to interpersonal contact,” he said.
While the applicants would not be allowed to meet privately with a council member or planning commissioner, Sandoval said it doesn’t mean there can’t be a public process to interview and meet the finalists.
But that system wouldn’t necessarily safeguard the city from what Torres described as leaks in the process, either a consultant or friend of the applicant who tries to contact the council or Planning Commission.
Sandoval and Councilwoman Cristina Carrizosa said they’re against any contact because they don’t want applicants lobbying for a permit or license.
Who gets the money?
Pomona heard from several young speakers who argued that the cannabis ordinance direct funds toward Pomona youth. They also asked for the reinstatement of the Pomona Youth Commission.
The council agreed to look into regulating cannabis operations as a form of generating much-needed revenues for the city’s depleted coffers as well as creating resources to crack down on illegal shops.
Torres cautioned his colleagues about anticipating a whole new revenue stream to fund much-needed improvements or programming. Pomona would have to go to the voters to tax marijuana businesses first, he added.
That’s why Torres believes the fees, which have not been established, may bring in as little as $40,000, he said. Once that fee is established, Torres said the majority of the revenues should go toward enforcement and education to prevent marijuana use.
The irony was not lost on Carrizosa. Some say, “we’re doing this on behalf of the kids” and yet the ordinance would put a drug on the streets.
Echoing Torres, Sandoval took it one step further, proposing the council consider placing its own initiative on the November ballot to tax marijuana. Sandoval said he’d want to see half of all the tax revenues go toward youth services/programming and the other half toward public safety.
The council will review the entire checklist at a future meeting.