By Deb Murphy
Bishop city staff was looking for a consensus, some direction for the Planning Commission as it wrestles with the sticky issue of cultivation of medicinal marijuana. City Council Mayor Pat Gardner came close to a recap of Monday’s lengthy discussion. “We may be in favor of a ban, or at least where growing happens it’s limited.”
The Council began a process that spans a December meeting of the Commission (cultivation is a land use issue) and two more readings of an ordinance, if there is one, to meet the March 1, 2016 deadline to exert some level of local control over cultivation.
(Mammoth’s Town Council dealt with mobile dispensaries at last week’s meeting, compelled by an even earlier deadline before state laws move the issue to Sacramento.)
City Attorney Ryan Jones started the discussion with some background. The City has an ordinance that bans dispensaries and mobile sales, but not cultivation. Sacramento has three bills designed to rein in what Jones called the Wild West that followed passage of the Compassionate Care Act 10 years ago. The new laws will put the regulation of pot groves in state hands, unless cities get their own laws on the books by March. “The state will provide the framework,” Jones said. “But cities can use that or do their own.”
The state Ag Department will regulate pot farms much the same way other agricultural operations are regulated under the new laws.
The consensus is that the state is not just setting the framework for medicinal marijuana sales and cultivation, but getting a head start on the strong possibility that marijuana for recreational use will be legalized by initiative on the November 2016 ballot.
The whole issue is somewhat clouded by elements that can only be described as weird. First: right now, cultivation is illegal, raising the thorny question: where are the medicinal dispensaries getting their stash? Collectives can grow for its members as non-profits; individuals can grow for their own use, at least that’s what the 10-year old laws indicate.
Then there’s the question raised by Councilmember Joe Pecsi: Pot is still considered a dangerous, highly addictive drug, and, hence, illegal, by the federal government. But, Jones said, the Feds won’t send its Drug Enforcement Administration agents to break-up California’s dispensaries. Pecsi read from the city charter: Bishop can pass any law that doesn’t conflict with state or federal laws. Pecsi’s direction to the Planning Commission would be to ban all forms of marijuana use. He gained little support.
While the public will get plenty of opportunity to jump into this fray, only a few provided comments at Monday’s meeting, ranging from “we should take a moral stand,” to “the writing’s on the wall.” James Freeman supported a more liberal attitude, saying that pot was preferable to pharmaceuticals in a lot of situations. “If we ban dispensaries, people will just go to the black market,” he said.
“The League of California Cities has been talking about this for a long time,” said Gardner. “Many cities already have controls in place. Giving up our control to the state is scary. We have the opportunity, we should take it.”
Councilmember Karen Schwartz came out on the side of no-ban. “I don’t see the harm of medicinal marijuana. Who are we to say you can’t if the states says you can. What’s the harm?”
Other than Schwartz, the Council danced around the topic of a cultivation ban, what City Administrator Jim Tatum described as “the 800-pound elephant.” Tatum wanted to see more direction to staff and the Planning Commission if there was a consensus from the Council. There didn’t seem to be one.
Councilmember Laura Smith focused on the fact that any ordinance could be amended in the future. Jones agreed, as long as there was an ordinance in place by the deadline.
By the end of the discussion, Jones said he would provide samples of other city ordinances, “from A to Z and everything in between,” to give the Commission an idea of alternatives.
The Commission will hold a well-notified special meeting in early December with the first and second readings of a proposed ordinance at City Council meetings in January.
After next November, this 800-pound elephant may simply vanish.
The Planning Commission also gets to deal with a vaping ordinance. Controlling vaping in public, that was relatively easy, according to Jones — just expand existing regulations on tobacco smoke to include vaping. On restrictions for vaping shops or lounges, Schwartz’ suggestion was to, first get more community input, and then perhaps apply the same business permit restrictions now used for other adult activities, like bars.
The Kingston Subdivision will return to the Bishop City Council agenda tentatively set for Jan. 11.
The revised documents states “the proposed project could not have a significant effect on the environment with adherence to the mitigation measures listed in the Initial Study. A Mitigated Negative Declaration will be prepared.”
The Revised Draft Environmental Initial Study Mitigated Negative Declaration was sent off to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and posted to the City’s website (under Public Works, Environmental Documents) Tuesday. Copies of the document will be available at City Hall. Public comments will be taken through December 14.
According to Planning Director Gary Schley, the Planning Commission will hold a special meeting in early December followed by City Council’s consideration of the subdivision, tentatively set for its January 11 meeting. Public comments can be submitted in writing to City of Bishop, P.O. Box 1236, Bishop, CA 93515 or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The initial study was discussed at Council in mid-July with objections raised by potential neighbors to the 15-home subdivision on a 2.75-acre parcel currently occupied by Bishop Nursery on Home Street. Those opposed called the study inadequate, raising issues of impacts to habitat, noise and traffic. In August, the City hired Bill Taylor to work with the department on the study revision.
More to come.