Commissioners hash out plan for regulating retail marijuana sales, delivery in Costa Mesa


After multiple lengthy discussions on regulating retail cannabis businesses in Costa Mesa under Measure Q, passed by voters in November, the city’s planning commission on Monday recommended a draft ordinance that will soon go before the City Council for approval.

The ordinance attempts to regulate where dispensaries and marijuana delivery services may operate inside commercial zones, stipulating they would not be allowed within 1,000 feet of childcare centers, K-12 schools, playgrounds and homeless shelters, identified as “sensitive uses.”

Planning commissioners removed an explicit direction that retail marijuana sales and delivery may not take place within 600 feet of a youth center — locations where minors learn, study, congregate and socialize — choosing instead to defer to state laws that already imply as much.

Business owners must seek a conditional use permit to open storefronts or non-storefront delivery services which, under the new proposal, cannot open within 500 feet of another existing retail cannabis operation.

One exception would be businesses already processing, manufacturing or distributing cannabis in accordance with 2016 voter-approved Measure X. Should those enterprises wish to add non-storefront delivery to their list of services, permitted owners could seek a minor conditional use permit subject to approval by a director, the commissioners determined.

A proposal to deny applications from property owners or businesses that have conducted illegal cannabis operations in Costa Mesa in the past five years was shaved down Monday to 180 days with the added provision such operators reimburse historic costs incurred by the city in seeking punitive actions.

“If an illegal cannabis dispensary is replaced by a legal cannabis dispensary, it seems like, irrespective of how long the illegal dispensary has been there, what we’re trying to achieve,” said Commissioner John Stephens.

The panel weighed the merits of additional impositions, such as capping the number of businesses allowed and considering a broader range of sensitive uses but decided against it.

“I’m not in favor of a cap, per se,” said Chair Byron de Arakal. “If we have the 500-foot distance buffer, I think the number will kind of regulate itself.”

Vice Chair Kedarious Colbert said he favored the ordinance in general but could not support a provision in the document that would prohibit business owners from employing people convicted of a felony in the last seven years.

He said that, given the disproportionately high number of minority individuals who have incurred nonviolent felony drug charges, such a clause would continue to perpetuate unfair policies that have kept people who have paid their debt to society from becoming productive, contributing citizens.

“The state of California has criminalized, imprisoned and punished a number of Black and brown people mainly for having nonviolent drug offenses, specifically possession of marijuana,” Colbert said, adding such citizens may lack access to attorneys who can seek to have felony convictions withdrawn or expunged.

“Until we remove this [language], we create inherent barriers that we already know are barriers to people who don’t have access,” he said. “If we can’t do that, I won’t be supporting it.”

Commissioner Jon Zich said he understood Colbert’s reservations but believed eliminating the prohibition entirely could open the floodgate to violent felons and those with more serious or troublesome drug convictions.

Other commissioners expressed an interest in possibly minimizing the number of years former felons would have to wait to seek employment but said establishing such parameters seemed outside the purview of the council.

Instead, they advised Colbert to take his concerns directly to the City Council.

“I think there are smarter people and smarter legal minds, and talented guys like you, who are passionate about it and can drive the policy from a different angle,” de Arakal told Colbert.

With 4-2 approval (Colbert and Stephens opposed the ordinance, while a late-arriving Commissioner Jenna Tourje abstained) the draft ordinance will be heard at a future meeting of the Costa Mesa City Council.

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