Ukiah Planning Commission Unanimously Passes Ordinance Allowing Cannabis Consumption

Last night, the Ukiah Planning Commission unanimously passed an amendment to city code allowing for cannabis consumption at licensed retailers in the city. The amendment is limited in that it would allow for smoking or vaping only at outdoor sites, due to the city’s anti-smoking ordinance. It will allow for edibles or drinks to be consumed indoors.

At the meeting during the staff report, a slide was shown indicating that cities currently allowing on-site consumption include San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Rosa, West Hollywood, Palm Springs, Ojai, Port Hueneme, Coalinga, Lompoc, and National City.

Monique Ramirez of the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance, a business group with 100+ members, read a memo in support of the measure, noting, “This amendment will incentivize customers to frequent retail locations, which in turn will create a benefit for everyone, including local farms that supply products to retailers in our County.”

She continued, “Customers having places to consume cannabis safely should be promoted. Just as there are designated places for alcohol consumption, cannabis businesses with the proper zoning should have the same opportunities. Giving tourists a real taste of what Mendocino County producers have to offer will help promote our small businesses across the county and promote economic development. Medical patients especially need safe places to consume cannabis, whether for dried flower, edibles or cannabis drinks. Some patients do not have the ability to smoke/vaporize cannabis in the comfort of their own homes because they may be renters and their landlords disallow it.”

As did Cal NORML, MCA recommended that the Planning Commission expand the indoor use to include inhalable products. Paul Hansberry of Loving and Legally spoke in support, have been to SF where have inside consumption lounges have been “a savior for businesses, and for medical patients esp. because of smoking ordinances.” In a letter to the commission, Cal NORML wrote, “Inhalation is a safer mode of consumption than ingestion for on-site consumption areas. This is because inhalation acts promptly, allowing users to calibrate their dosage in accordance with its effects. There is no reason to believe that indoor smoking or vaping of cannabis presents an undue public safety hazard.”

The Ukiah ordinance was advanced by Kyle Greenhalgh of Heritage Mendocino, who spoke as the meeting, as did a representative from Cannavine. Todd Harp of Fish Peddler, the nearest business to Heritage Mendocino, also testified in support, saying that the business has beautified the neighborhood, increased his business.

Local farmer Susan Tibbon spoke in support, as did farmer John Casale, who said he has a tourism license. Casale spoke about being helped by Heritage Mendocino, where it’s explained and demonstrated, “Why the Emerald Triangle farmers are the Napa Valley of weed.” Nick Caston, director of public policy for Solful, a partner with Heritage Mendocino, spoke of the ability of consumption rooms to innovate and connect with producers, and prevents lawlessness, due to restrictions on places where people can consume cannabis. The sole opponent speaking was an elderly MD concerned about the effect of cannabis on drivers, and the brain.

Public comment was re-opened for a question from commissioner Michelle Johnson for questions about the ventilation system in the ordinance. Greenhalgh clarified that he was not intending to allow indoor consumption, but was open to allowing it elsewhere. Johnson said she could see both sides of the issue, noting that many parts of the city smell like weed these days, and she understood the need for having spaces to consume in “a regulated, safe environment.”

Commissioner Rick Johnson tried to compare it to a tasting room at winery. Greenhalgh said that California has a strict guideline that everything consumed must be purchased, so no sampling is permitted, unlike with wine. It was clarified that under state law, someone can’t bring in cannabis purchased from another sort, like you can pay a corkage fee at a restaurant. (Yet another way that cannabis businesses are penalized in CA.)

Commissioner Alex de Grassi fretted that despite public noticing and an article in the UDJ, and pending city council approval, the public might not be fully aware of the proposal. He proposed an amendment requiring that any modifications to existing businesses for the purposes of consumption be reviewed by the planning commission. Johnson asked about the difference in cost between taking modifications to the planning administrator and taking it before the commission; was told that the cost was $900 to go before the administrator and $2000-$3000 for a planning commission review, to pay for staff time, and possibly more (at $100/hour) due to heavy regulations, e.g. security requirements, for cannabis businesses. The development director can always defer projects to the planning commissioner. DeGrassi’s motion then died for lack of a second.

The original motion that passed with aye votes from all four commissioners present. It will now head to Ukiah City Council for approval.

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