While Oakdale has long identified itself as staunchly conservative in both politics and economic growth – as evidenced by the strong turn-out for Monday night’s city council meeting regarding the future of commercial cannabis within city limits – times are changing.
Council members met Monday, Oct. 2 to discuss a number of items but the one item that compelled community members to leave their homes for the night to attend, was the public hearing regarding the repeal of Article IV, Medical Marijuana Dispensary, Cultivation, and Delivery Ban of Chapter 14, Health and Sanitation.
In short, council members were charged with the decision to commit to a path: allow or deny commercial cannabis business models within the city limits.
After lengthy discussion, which included public comment from both advocates and opponents, the council took a cautionary approach and requested additional modifications to the home-grow section of the proposed ordinance with a 4-1 vote, with Councilwoman Cherilyn Bairos representing the lone dissenting vote.
Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer offered a comprehensive presentation detailing the provisions within the proposed commercial cannabis ordinance, including the areas designated for such commercial use, which were all located on the outskirts of the city, in land zoned for light industrial, such as Hi-Tech Parkway and Post Road – all of which are located away from the main thoroughfare and casual foot traffic, such as the downtown area.
“All of the proposed areas identified are off the major corridors so that the business owners can operate and not be disruptive,” Whitemyer said.
According to Whitemyer’s research, the decision to go forward or hold the conservative line comes down to economics.
While it may appear to be less expensive to ban commercial cannabis from the city (preliminary figures estimate to be $550,000 to ban; $870,000 to allow), there are no funds allocated and zero revenue that can be generated for banning, whereas allowing cannabis would enable the city to shift the maintenance costs onto the businesses, rather than the taxpayer.
And seeing as trying to stop cannabis from infiltrating Oakdale is already a losing battle, the writing on the wall seemed evident, a sentiment expressed by many of the people attending the meeting.
“Banning cannabis from Oakdale … it’s not quite realistic,” Whitemyer said. “It’s already here.”
Whitemyer added, neighboring cities, such as Riverbank, are already discussing the future of commercial cannabis within their jurisdiction, which would further push potential tax dollars outside of the city of Oakdale by encouraging people to purchase their cannabis elsewhere.
Michael Brennan, former council member and current business owner, put it succinctly as he addressed the council, saying, “If you can’t beat it, tax it. Not exorbitantly, but within reason. If you don’t do it, the cities around us will. We might as well have some money to help the caregivers out, such as police and fire.”
Brennan went on to add local businesses ought to be given favor over large commercial operations but either way, change was coming and Oakdale needed to be proactive about cashing in on the opportunity.
“But don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Amend the regulations if you have to. If you need to make change, do it but let it come in and regulate it. Bring the money here,” Brennan finished.
Of the 14 proposals submitted to the city, half represented business plans for dispensaries. According to Whitemyer, the city would only approve two of the 14 proposals, which is based on a formula using the city’s population.
THE FINE PRINT
Mayor Pro Tem Tom Dunlop expressed concern about the home-grow section of the proposed ordinance, saying he didn’t feel the suggested fines were high enough.
“I’m against the home-grows completely,” Dunlop admitted. “But if we can’t stop it, I’m in favor of very high fines for violations.”
Currently, the language allows the City to assess administrative penalties in the amount of $250 for the first ordinance violation, $500 for the second offense, and $1,000 for any subsequent offense.
Whitemyer cautioned the council against making the ordinance language too restrictive as currently a lawsuit is pending against a Montana city that alleges the restrictions were unconstitutional.
Dunlop also wanted to see more funds allocated to the projected cost of facilitating the ordinance, potentially raising the cost of maintaining the ordinance to $1 million.
Whitemyer identified the costs of going forward with commercial cannabis to include: additional police and fire personnel, administrative costs, three full-time enforcement employees, and a code enforcement officer. The costs also include impacts to existing staff within the following departments: finance, public services within building, planning and code enforcement.
While many advocates expressed their support for commercial cannabis, going so far as to include personal stories on how the use of medical marijuana and cannabis oil has improved their quality of life, from cancer diagnoses to neuropathy pain, concerns were voiced about the impact to the community’s youngest members.
“Are we just going to let children be exposed to marijuana now?” one community member voiced. “How are we going to protect the children?”
Dunlop agreed; his main concern was keeping marijuana out of the hands of the kids.
“Marijuana is now legal in California. We’re not going to keep it from coming to town,” Dunlop conceded, adding, “But how do we keep this from getting into the hands of children?”
Dunlop voiced his support for a drug dog within the schools and additional support for police enforcement on school grounds but, he admitted, money was needed to make this happen.
Longtime Oakdale community member and 22-year Oak Valley Hospital District employee Karen O’Bannon took to the podium to share a personal story about her experience with medical marijuana after a cancer diagnosis left her over-medicated, sick and dying.
In short, O’Bannon attributed medical marijuana to saving her life.
“Today, I’m healthier than I’ve been in 10 years,” O’Bannon shared. “Cannabis is coming – it’s here. We just have to figure out how to manage it. I’m a firm believer in teaching kids how to be responsible, just as we have with alcohol and cigarettes.”
THE NEXT STEP
Once staff has had the chance to amend the proposed ordinance language, Whitemyer will return to the council for a first reading at a future council meeting.
At this time, the two winning proposals have not been selected and the process remains ongoing.