Atascadero to discuss allowing limited medical marijuana cultivation

–Atascadero City Council is reconsidering what they say was a rushed decision to ban the cultivation of medical marijuana within the city limits. AB21, a state Assembly bill that would remove a March 1 deadline for local governments to enact marijuana regulations,was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Feb. 3 after successfully passing the State Assembly in a 65-to-zero vote the previous Thursday.

City Manager Rachelle Rickard presented four different options for the council to consider to address concerned raised by both members of the public and council members.

The four options:

  1. Begin a public process immediately and move forward with an analysis irrespective of any potential ballot measures in November.
  2. Adopt an ordinance that allows personal cultivation at a level consistent with what is currently allowed by the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 as a place holder until it is known what might happen as a result of a potential November ballot measures.
  3. Leave the ordinance just adopted in place until after the potential November ballot issue is decided by the voters. At some point after the November election, council would evaluate the policy based on local desires and the legislation in place at the time.
  4. Repeal the cultivation ban and re-adopt the city’s previous medical marijuana ordinance.

The council went with option four with some additional restrictions. The council gave direction to staff to take a draft ordinance that would look at allowing limited production within the city to the planning commission on March 1.

The council directed that the ordinance should include the ban the cultivation of marijuana on vacant land, limit up to eight ounces of dried marijuana, 12 immature and six mature plants per person and not to exceed 15 immature and nine mature plants per dwelling, no cultivation in the yard as as defined by staff and the ordinance would only extend to individuals, not collectives.

Several council members expressed concern going through with Option 1 because of the possibility of ballot measures going through in regards to adult marijuana use.

“I think we’re just fighting an uphill battle until we know the results of November,” Councilman Bob Kelley said. “I’m kind of inclined to Option 3. Let’s wait and see what the outcome is.”

“[Option 1] could be a waste of our time and resources,” Councilman Brian Sturtevant said. “I’d like to see some lifting of the ban. The only reason I voted for the ban because it’s what we needed to comply with state law.”

While both Mayor Tom O’Malley and Mayor Pro Tem Heather Moreno said they preferred Option 4, or a hybrid with Option 2, Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi said she’s not comfortable going back to the old ordinance.

“It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of legal work. Do we need to do that?” Fonzi said. “I just don’t see it. I don’t see why we’d want to go back to something that didn’t work in the first place. I understand, certainly, that there is a need for medical marijuana and I sympathize for those that use it for a legitimate use. However, I have to side with the safety issue. … as elected officials we are here to protect [the community]. There is a very small number that are actually causing problems, but they are causing problems. I’d like to wait until November and see where we are.”

With the majority of the council expressing the desire to lift the strict ban on cultivation, Fonzi suggested a number of restrictions she would like addressed in a proposed ordinance. In the roll call vote, Fonzi said “yes, with reservation.”

For information on the upcoming Atascadero Planning Commission meeting on March 1, go to the city’s website.

This story was originally published on Paso Robles Daily News and A-Town Daily News.