County explores delivery-only cannabis licenses

09/14/2017

After all bids to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Marin were denied this spring, the county has announced a fresh attempt to provide medicinal products locally. A new draft ordinance that permits medicinal cannabis delivery-only businesses in the unincorporated area of the county is now available for public review and comment. 

The draft ordinance will be presented to the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 26 and again on Oct. 10, when supervisors will vote on its approval. A public workshop and question-and-answer session will be held next Tuesday, Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m. in the supervisors’ chambers.

Under the county’s proposal, medicinal cannabis delivery retailers would be closed to the public, conducting sales exclusively by delivery. While the previously proposed dispensaries were intended to be 800 feet from schools, playgrounds, tobacco stores and other cannabis retailers, the new ordinance reduces this to 600 feet but expands the limitation to also apply to day care and youth centers. 

The county would aim to maintain at least two but no more than four licenses, which would be subject for renewal annually. Applications for licenses would be reviewed on a 100-point scale based on the strength of the business plan, operating plan, security plan, neighborhood compatibility, public benefits plan and site and architectural plans.  

Marin’s first attempt to establish a licensing model for medicinal cannabis retailers—formerly called “dispensaries” under state law, a definition that did not allow for a delivery-only option—in unincorporated Marin was unsuccessful. 

After the county spent almost two years creating an ordinance and assessing applications, the county administrator denied all 10 bids for storefront licenses in April, including two in West Marin. 

There was widespread opposition from school districts and community groups, whose concerns ranged from the potential for the sites to draw crime to their proximity to homes. 

“I think we knew it would be a challenge from the beginning,” county administrator Matthew Hymel told the Light at the time. “We hoped to identify a vendor and a site through this process. We don’t think we found that match.”

Over the past three months, the board’s cannabis subcommittee, comprised of Supervisors Judy Arnold and Damon Connolly, worked with Community Development Agency staff to draft a new ordinance that addresses public concerns. 

“I feel confident our Board and staff listened to input from stakeholders and have made appropriate changes to the process,” Ms. Arnold said in a county press release. “We are on the right track to provide patients in need of access to medicinal cannabis while addressing neighborhood concerns. Our goal is to be issuing delivery-only licenses by next summer.”

The draft ordinance addresses the state’s revised legislation, the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, which repealed the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act.

“An important aspect of the new legislation is that it uses the word ‘retailer’ rather than “dispensary” and allows for a retail operation to include a delivery-only option—something that may be a less impactful option for communities,” Inge Lundegaard, Marin County’s cannabis program manager, said. 

(Ms. Lundegaard said the previous ordinance is “still on the books, though we expect to go through a formal process of repealing it or amending it in the future.”)

Another change, at the administrative level, is that the Board of Supervisors will decide on which licenses to approve based on recommendations by the county administrator, rather than the county administrator making a decision based on recommendations from a volunteer advisory group.

The older ordinance, approved after multiple public hearings in December 2015, marked an effort by supervisors to provide a way for people with a doctor’s recommendation to visit a storefront to make their purchases, as every dispensary in the county had shut down. 

In the only instance in the county, Fairfax recently allowed a long-standing retailer to reopen under a prior use
permit.

Marijuana is still considered an illegal drug federally, but Proposition 215 of 1996 ensures that Californians have the right to obtain and use cannabis for medical purposes upon receiving a doctor’s recommendation.

Though California voters passed Proposition 64 in November 2016 that allows for the sale, regulation, taxation, cultivation and transportation of recreational cannabis, under an ordinance passed by county supervisors last February, recreational cannabis businesses are not permitted anywhere in unincorporated Marin.