Nevada City once again decides one medical pot dispensary is enough — for now
February 15, 2018
The contentious debate surrounding how many medical marijuana dispensaries should operate in Nevada City has been settled — for now.
The two candidates that applied but weren't approved for the city's first dispensary license will have to wait. Elevation 2477', selected by the City Council in November from a pool of three applicants, is set to become the city's sole medical cannabis retailer.
Noting all three applicants were qualified for the job, City Council members have argued among themselves about which prospective business should have been chosen.
A selection committee comprised of city staff and council members ranked Elevation the most qualified for a dispensary license, Nevada County Wellness second and Growing Community third.
Mayor Duane Strawser and Council Member Reinette Senum voted at a November City Council meeting in favor of awarding Growing Community the city's first dispensary license, touting the applicant's location, at 440 Lower Grass Valley Rd., and business model, which proposed giving all proceeds to local nonprofits, as superior to the other two candidates.
But the other three council members voted in favor of Elevation, at 569 Searls Ave., noting they followed the selection committee's rankings.
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Senum and Strawser both said they didn't think the city followed the selection process it adopted to choose the top candidate. In an effort to compromise, council members discussed the possibility of allowing all three dispensaries to operate — a discussion that has ensued over the past few months.
In a letter to the City Council dated Feb. 9, Growing Community's board president, Jason Rainey — who is also a Nevada City Planning Commissioner — said the prospective business was no longer in favor of the city allowing three dispensaries. Representatives from Growing Community, including Rainey, had previously urged the City Council to issue more than one license.
"In light of increasing community concerns, Growing Community supports the intent of the city's original ordinance requiring a 12-month waiting period before awarding additional new permits to operate medical cannabis dispensaries," Rainey said in the letter.
"While we've made our disappointment known at your split decision in November 2017, we recognize that five individuals can reach different conclusions about what's best for the city they represent … While we wish to keep our application officially on record, we otherwise look forward to a future opportunity to work with Nevada City," the letter states.
Back to (square) one
Council members Wednesday night ultimately decided to stick with their original plan, which calls for waiting until one year after Elevation is issued a license before possibly allowing more medical cannabis retail locations. According to Wolfson, a license has not yet been issued.
At the one-year mark, the city's cannabis regulations say, the city will assess the impact that the first dispensary has had on the community.
"What a mess," Senum said Wednesday night, when the council was asked for its final decision on the number of dispensaries to allow this year. "It didn't have to be this messy … The process was not abided by, and that's why we're here in this little pickle, thank you very much."
Senum, along with three other council members, voted to stick with one dispensary. Council Member Valerie Moberg voted to allow three.
"I still believe that there's room for more than one … We did get three excellent candidates," she said. "I don't know if we could get any better candidates than we received, and I don't have any qualms about their businesses bringing any problems to our town."
Applications became available this year for medical cannabis businesses other than dispensaries in Nevada City.
The Nevada City Planning Commission is tasked with reviewing those applications, while the City Council reviews dispensary applications.
The city allows medical marijuana businesses — which include manufacturing, transportation, cultivation, testing laboratory, distribution and retail — to operate on properties zoned for light industrial use.
Cultivation and dispensary businesses aren't permitted to operate within 600 feet of a school.
City Planner Amy Wolfson, who processes marijuana business applications, on Wednesday said the zoning requirements for medical cannabis businesses are the factor regulating how many of those enterprises can operate in Nevada City. Only a handful of buildings are zoned for light industrial use.
But the volume of applications for marijuana businesses the city has received on qualified parcels is greater than expected, Wolfson said, in part because many of the appropriately-zoned buildings are fragmented into separate units.
"We actually thought we were going to control this to some degree by having somewhat of a lack of properly zoned properties. What I don't think we foresaw was this has turned out to be like clowns in a Volkswagen," he said, referring to multiple cannabis businesses occupying the same building.
Wolfson said she's received six applications for cannabis businesses, other than dispensaries, in addition to two that were approved by the city's Planning Commission last month. Four other prospective businesses have submitted zoning verification requests — an initial step before a complete application can be submitted, Wolfson said.
Processing those applications and answering numerous questions posed by prospective applicants has taken up an "inordinate amount" of Wolfson's time this year, she told the City Council Wednesday. She is the Nevada City Planning Department's sole employee.
Wolfson on Wednesday asked the City Council for assistance in managing her time and assessing the costs associated with processing cannabis business applications.
Council members considered putting a moratorium on cannabis business applications in order to relieve Wolfson of some of her duties, but ultimately decided that solution wouldn't be fair to prospective business owners who have invested time and money into securing operating locations and putting applications together, many of whom spoke to the council Wednesday night.
The council told Wolfson she should let prospective business owners know it may take the city some time to process their applications.
"We're not going to sit here and tell you it's going to be six months (before we can process an application), because we're hoping it's not that." Strawser said. "We're not going to set a guideline and say, 'Sorry, folks, you're shut down.' It's up to our staff to tell us what they can deal with."
Four applications for medical cannabis businesses were set to be reviewed by the Planning Commission Thursday. However, due to a lack of available staff, copies of those written applications weren't available to community members who formally requested them, City Attorney Hal Degraw said Wednesday.
The city opted to postpone those reviews until the next Planning Commission meeting in order to provide copies of those documents.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Pera, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4231.