Metropolis strikes ahead with plan to loosen up hashish ban

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

The city has been on a quest recently to determine whether its citizens wish to relax Claremont’s regulations on cannabis.

Beginning in March the city initiated a series of coordinated outreach efforts aimed at renewing its cannabis business policy. The city hired HdL companies to conduct two virtual workshops and circulated an online survey for three weeks.

Approximately 50 people attended the workshops and expressed mostly favorable opinions about allowing cannabis retail stores in Claremont, according to a staff report. It was not entirely a green light, however, as attendees shared concerns about social equity, public safety and location of future marijuana stores.

The 48-question survey revealed strong support for both medicinal and recreational use of marijuana, but less support for allowing commercial cannabis businesses to operate in Claremont. Combined, 321 people, 67.3% of those surveyed, either were strongly or somewhat supportive of adult recreational use, compared with 136 people, 28.5%, who either strongly or somewhat opposed cannabis use. Of those who expressed support, 51% said they did so strongly.

About 80% said they either strongly or somewhat support medical cannabis use.

Intriguingly, while 58.3% said they voted for Proposition 64 which legalized adult marijuana use in California, only 21.6 said they were regular recreational users and another 22.3% said they were occasional users.

Support for commercial cannabis businesses in Claremont was far more tepid than that for legalized use, with 58.5% either strongly or somewhat supporting permitting such businesses. And opposition was not far behind, with 39.3% strongly or somewhat against the idea.

Divided into business type, retail garnered the strongest support with 57.7% expressing support for storefront retailers for medicinal marijuana, 55% for adult recreational retail and 61% for delivery-only services.

Support for other types of commercial cannabis enterprises, such as cultivation and manufacturing, generally received nominal support with the exception of manufacturing using volatile solvents, which was opposed by 64 percent of respondents.

A clear winner among nearly all was the idea of ​​taxing cannabis commerce, with 90.2% either strongly or somewhat supporting taxing retailers.

Armed with this information, the Claremont City Council voted Tuesday to authorize a draft tax ordinance for cannabis businesses in Claremont, despite clearly mixed feelings about actually allowing retailers to set up shop. To move forward, the draft tax ordinance will need to be placed on the ballot and approved by Claremont voters in November.

The council also approve a resolution for city staff to develop a comprehensive plan for a regulatory policy with a wide range of options, from allowing only delivery services to approving a wide rage of commercial businesses.

The Claremont City Council first adopted a ban on commercial cannabis businesses in 2006, years before Governor Jerry Brown signed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act in October 2015, which generally authorized local agencies to allow and regulate cannabis businesses.

In anticipation of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, Proposition 64, being approved by voters, the city council in October 2016 authorized an ordinance prohibiting commercial cannabis operations, including retail dispensaries, cultivation, and manufacturing facilities, as well as delivery services within the city . Voters did indeed support Proposition 64 that November legalizing “possession, transport, purchase, use, and transfer of recreational marijuana for individuals 21 years of age or older.”

“Proposition 64 stipulated that if a city did not enact local cannabis commercial licensing restrictions or a ban by January 1, 2018, commercial cannabis businesses could operate with a valid state license. Therefore, until local regulations and interests could be analyzed and identified for implementation, the City of Claremont adopted ordinances to regulate the personal use and cultivation of cannabis and restrict commercial cannabis activities in the city,” according to a city staff report.

On February 12, 2019 the city council reaffirmed the cannabis ban.

Mark Lovelace of HdL Companies cautioned on Tuesday that the survey results may not reflect actual voter sentiment, because the type of people who take the time to fill out a long questionnaire tend to be those with strong views either for or against.

To illustrate the possible margin of error, he compared the percentage of survey respondents who said they voted for Proposition 64 with the actual election results in the city and found the survey “overrepresented” voter sentiment by 18%. This could be a key factor in crafting the new regulatory platform if, as was the case with marijuana cultivation, the survey only found mild support.

Perhaps the greatest motivator in adopting a plan now is the very real possibility that if the council did not act, it would lose the ability to regulate cannabis businesses here if a citizen-driven initiative gets placed on a future ballot and passes.

In his report, staff noted that Hermosa Beach, El Segundo, Dana Point, and Redondo Beach will be facing some type of ballot measures which can favor certain types of business and limit local control.

In 2020 a citizen-sponsored initiative in Pomona allowed for eight businesses, including consumption on-site and a 600-foot buffer zone from schools or other “sensitive sites.” In general, citizen-backed ballot measures allowed for a higher number of cannabis businesses to be allowed, as well as less restrictive buffer zones.

Additionally, if a citizen-backed ballot measure received enough signatures in a non-election year, it could trigger a special election, which would cost the city $140,000.

The tax initiative, if passed by Claremont voters in November, carries a pretty significant reward, with $250,000 to $350,000 in estimated annual tax revenue per business.

During its debate, the council brought up the issue of cash-heavy businesses, such as marijuana shops, becoming a magnet for robberies. However, the high level of security at these shops, along with the use of safes and frequent removal of cash via armored vehicles, has resulted in safe operations in other cities.

Several council members signaled they may have had a change of opinion about allowing cannabis business in Claremont, due in a large part to an established framework of best practices that have developed over the past few years through the real-time experiences in other municipalities.

Council member Jennifer Stark requested that the city continue to have a robust dialog with the community as the process moves forward.

Though it may seem awkward to enact a tax on a business that currently is not allowed in Claremont, City Manager Adam Pirrie said the city could come up with a regulatory package for the council’s approval as soon as six months, which is right around Election Day .