Arroyo Grande bans, Morro Bay restricts medical marijuana cultivation

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Two more local cities have jumped on the ban-wagon barreling through California in response to new laws that will regulate the medical marijuana industry.

Atascadero is now the only city without a cultivation ban, after a noticing error forced the city to delay its decision. At a special meeting at 5 p.m. on Jan. 19, the City Council will consider a complete ban on cultivation, delivery, and retail sale.

Local policies have been rushed through to beat a deadline set by the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act passed in 2015 to regulate and license all aspects of the industry. That deadline stipulates that in order for localities to maintain local control over cultivation, they must have a policy in place by March 1. That’s put localities in a pickle—there wasn’t enough time for the arduous process of hashing out details for regulating cultivation, so instead, all local cities thus far have opted for a ban. 

In recent weeks, Morro Bay planned to postpone a decision in anticipation that the March 1 deadline would be removed. Assemblymember Jim Wood, who authored the laws’ cultivation segment, has publicly reassured decision makers that the deadline was a mistake and urgency legislation to fix it has bipartisan support in Sacramento. However, two pro-medical-marijuana groups said they will oppose the fix unless it also removes the ability for local jurisdictions to ban personal cultivation for those relying on medical cannabis.

And so, at the last minute, the item was scheduled for Morro Bay’s Jan. 12 meeting.

“The city believes that a robust community discussion of all of the marijuana issues is important, and we want to have a full, deep, and comprehensive discussion with our residents on all of these issues,” Morro Bay City Manager David Buckingham told New Times. “Because of that, we frankly didn’t want to have to jump through a hoop right now and make a quick decision, but the artificial deadline contained in the state legislation essentially—along with most other cities—forced us to make a quick decision, but a decision that can be easily changed.”

And a quick decision they made—seven hours into their regularly scheduled 6 p.m. meeting. The issue itself took only 20 minutes, and by that time all members of the public had gone home. The City Council unanimously chose to ban commercial cultivation, to allow cultivation for personal use and by caregivers, and to prioritize the “robust discussion” in the coming fiscal year once state laws—including an anticipated November ballot referendum for all-out legalization—have had time to settle.

In Arroyo Grande, the City Council voted Jan. 12 to ban all cultivation—including commercial, personal, and by caregivers—and to uphold an existing ban on brick-and-mortar and mobile dispensaries.

That complete ban troubled some residents, who worried how patients would fare with such restricted access.

“I think we should take a stance that’s less punitive ... similar to Grover Beach,” said resident Judith Bernstein. Grover Beach, like Morro Bay, is set to adopt a ban on commercial cultivation only, and will allow cultivation by patients and licensed caregivers.

One speaker, who said she was a breast cancer survivor, said the issue was a matter of life and death for some patients.

“It blows me away that people want to keep something away that helps keep people alive,” she said.

The council approved the ban on a 3-1 vote. Mayor Jim Hill was absent, and Councilmember Tim Brown was the lone dissenting vote. All present councilmembers expressed a desire to revisit the ordinance after the March 1 deadline.

“Prohibition doesn’t work, and this isn’t going to work,” Brown said. 

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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