So where is Arroyo Grande on medical cannabis?

Opinion by Mayor Jim Hill

Medical marijuana – cannabis – has been legal under California law since Proposition 215 was passed by voters in 1996. Well over a year ago, facing a mandated state deadline and anticipating new state regulations which would preempt local control, the Arroyo Grande City Council passed an ordinance authorizing deliveries only of medical cannabis within the city.

Due to the rigorous protocol the city established to protect residents and regulate delivery services, only one company, Elite Care, has qualified and received a city permit since the ordinance was enacted.

When the promised state regulations were finally published, they included new terms such as “retail medicinal non-storefront” which could be confused to mean “delivery only” but in fact meant a mandatory warehouse or “premises” from which deliveries would originate.

Although the original intent of council was that deliveries would originate outside the city, early last December, city staff informed the state bureau that Elite Care’s “retail medicinal non-storefront” business in the city was consistent with the city-issued permit and the state bureau subsequently issued Elite Care a temporary state license. Elite Care proceeded to lease a potential “premises” location in the city.

Later that month, city staff told the state bureau that medicinal retail non-storefront was not authorized by the city permit. Last month, staff sent the state a letter recommending Elite Care’s state license be revoked.

Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill

Early this month, on the city recommendation, the state revoked the license. Since Elite Care has applied for but not yet received a “premises” permit elsewhere, this meant that Elite Care could not legally deliver within the city.

At last Tuesday’s meeting, the council considered three choices: 1) do nothing, which would have the effect of prohibiting all local delivery since no entity other than Elite Care had qualified for the required city permit and Elite Care does not currently have a required “premises” from which to deliver. This option also appears to violate a new state requirement which prohibits local regulation of deliveries originating elsewhere; 2) repeal the existing ordinance and fall back on the state regulation, which would have the effect of prohibiting all deliveries until the lengthy city ordinance repeal process was complete, then allowing any state licensee having a premises elsewhere to deliver into the city without city oversight; or 3) authorize one or more “retail non-storefront” locations within the city, which would allow Elite Care and any other city permit holder to conduct deliveries only from within the city. This option would have the added benefit of directing resulting sales taxes to the city, instead of to the outside “premises” locations.

The staff report characterized the evolving state regulations dealing with medicinal and more recently approved “recreational” cannabis and their associated communications as “chaotic” and “uncoordinated” which begs the question why the city should abandon its established process to state control. All public testimony was in favor of medicinal deliveries and strongly supported Elite Care. All but one comment supported a local “premises” for Elite Care.

Council discussion raised the specter of break-ins if there was a local premises and concern about additional work for city staff to modify the ordinance. Ultimately, the council voted 3-2 to repeal the existing city ordinance.

Ironically, since Elite Care does not yet have a “premises”, they alone would be prohibited from delivering medical products locally, even though they are the only entity to have qualified for and been granted a city delivery permit. I supported allowing a local “premises” for Elite Care (and up to two other services qualified under the city ordinance protocol), and thus voted against the measure. I also note repealing the ordinance still requires more staff work and voids the large volume of work already performed.

My concerns remain that for some time there will be no legal deliveries within the city, denying our patients access to safe, tested, legal medicines.

Meanwhile, black market operators continue unfettered and probably couldn’t be distinguished from legal deliveries originating elsewhere absent the city ordinance.

I believe that if we want to allow deliveries to patients here, we need to support the required aspects including authorizing the required “premises.” I believe that break-ins at “premises” are very unlikely due to the extreme security measures required and the fact that the products, many of which are alternatives to highly addictive opiates, are not suitable for “recreational” use.

Meanwhile, Arroyo Grande shares in the appalling national crisis of opiate abuse and we’ve had several break-ins at our local pharmacies that stock opiate substances where no such security is required. Revenue from safe, city-authorized cannabis delivery services could fund additional police efforts to stop black market operators and fight abuse of opiates.

It seems to me the council vote was not just a losing battle, it shows we’re fighting the wrong war.