SoCal City, Costa Mesa, Officials Consider Sweeping New Rules for Dispensaries


In an “hours-long discussion,” the officials on a Costa Mesa panel considered various ways of amending the city’s laws governing legal cannabis shops. Those laws “have engendered complaints from neighbors and proprietors alike,” according to the Los Angeles Times, which said that Tuesday’s meeting “ended with a flurry of motions from City Council members that, if approved, could have sweeping local impacts on the industry.”

The Times reported that the council “considered a slate of recommendations submitted by the Planning Commission in three earlier public hearings and cataloged in a draft revision of the original 2021 ordinance.”

“But where commissioners went in with scalpel-like precision, carefully weighing potential edits against real-world consequences before posing eight specific suggestions, the City Council adopted a somewhat scattershot approach,” the Times said.

The publication Voice of OC reported that the Costa Mesa City Council is “looking to limit the number of retail cannabis shops to 35 after city officials began questioning just how many should operate within the city,” while also “eying how close the shops should sit next to homes, youth centers and other cannabis storefronts.”

“Part of my intent today is to not only figure out the new buffers and also the cap, but also to address issues raised by the industry,” Manuel Chavez, a member of the Costa Mesa City Council, said at Tuesday’s meeting, as quoted by Voice of OC. “I think we’re doing a piece by piece approach which is fine but I do want to make sure we’re reforming some of the comments we hear from the industry.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, the council “generally supported establishing a separation requirement of 250 feet between any new cannabis dispensaries and residentially zoned properties and 1,000 feet between storefronts and youth centers where children recreate.”

More from the Times on the measures considered by the council:

“If passed, such a rule would make any already-approved shops inside that red zone ‘legal, nonconforming’ businesses. Although they may continue to operate in violation of the new rules, it’s not clear whether that status could hamper a property or business in the future. The panel also agreed to process up to 35 cannabis business permits, to allow would-be operators who’ve already passed a pre-application stage to continue the process. After that, through attrition, a new citywide cap of 10 dispensaries could be instituted upon final approval. But because a cannabis business permit runs with an individual operator and may not be transferred if a dispensary is sold, it is unclear whether another owner would be able to apply for a new permit or be shut out by the cap.”

Voters in Costa Mesa, a city in Orange County of around 17,000 people, approved a ballot proposal in 2020 called Measure Q, also known as the Costa Mesa Retail Cannabis Tax and Regulation Measure, which “allows the City to adopt rules permitting retail cannabis uses within the City, including storefronts (dispensaries) and non-storefront uses (delivery only),” according to the city’s official website.

Measure Q also established “buffers between some properties and storefronts to limit the distance between them,” which the Costa Mesa City Council began considering last fall.

In October, the council “voted unanimously for staff to take another look at the buffers,” directing the “planning commission [to] first consider any changes and make recommendations to the council within the next two months,” according to Voice of OC.

“The current ordinance does not include buffer zones between storefronts and residential areas. Some residents have expressed concerns about the distance of cannabis storefronts from residential areas and schools and the overconcentration of the businesses, especially at Broadway and Newport Boulevard…Local officials are also concerned for the well-being of students as they pass many cannabis stores on their commute to school,” the outlet reported in the fall.

“My kids are eight, and they ask me all the time, ‘What’s Nectar? What’s Mr. Nice Guys?’ It’s hard to explain to them what’s going on in the community,” Erik Weigand, a Newport Beach councilmember, said at the meeting in October.

Alex Frank, an attorney representing home and business owners in Costa Mesa, said that if “four cannabis businesses are put at that corner, it will effectively turn that corner into Costa Mesa’s cannabis row, and it will do so less than 25 yards from homes and many families in our community,” according to Voice of OC.

“My firm has been retained to encourage the city to reverse course on this before pot shops dominate that corner and damage my clients’ businesses and their homes. And if the city will not do that, my clients intend to proceed with litigation to seek damages for the resulting injuries,” Frank said at the meeting, as quoted by the outlet.



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