In spite of concerns expressed by some that the revised city ordinance governing cannabis production within the city limits – both personal and commercial – smelled too strongly of oppressive bureaucracy, council members moved forward with a 4-0 vote to approve the proposed ordinance at the Monday, Nov. 6 meeting.
City Council members maintained the city’s long-standing conservative approach to most progressive issues by faithfully holding the line regarding the highly-charged issue of cannabis-oriented retail growth and personal, in-home cultivation.
Previously, council directed staff to return with revisions to the proposed ordinance that allowed for stiffer fines in regards to the in-home cultivation section.
Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer complied with the council’s request, returning with, not only more stringent fines but the requirement of an Administrative Cultivation Permit (ACP) for anyone wishing to exercise their right to grow up to six plants per parcel for personal use.
In addition, the area surrounding TL Davis Sports Complex, which was previously earmarked for potential dispensary locations was removed, citing concerns regarding exposure to children.
The additional restrictive language didn’t sit well with some in the crowd, while others appreciated the appearance of strict regulations within a changing environment.
As Whitemyer reminded council at the previous meeting, marijuana isn’t new to Oakdale. Aside from putting Oakdale within a plastic bubble, he posed to council, “Since we can’t keep it out of Oakdale, how can we regulate it?”
Whitemyer recapped how allowing cannabis within the city limits would put the financial burden of enforcement on the cannabis industry as it would provide a self-sustaining income stream that outright banning would not.
Similar to the previous meeting, community members filled the council chambers, concerned with how Oakdale would proceed, both for and against the issue on the agenda.
Business owner Frank Edwards took to the podium to question the right of council to limit free enterprise. Edwards criticized the council’s restrictive approach to what he deemed should be a simple retail permit, similar to any business wishing to operate within the city limits.
“Why can’t this industry have the same opportunity to sink or swim on its own?” Edwards questioned. “We the people have voted that we want this stuff – the same people who voted you into office. No other business has to pay exorbitant fees for a permit.”
Prospective business applicants with an interest in a cannabis-based business within the city were required to pay a $5,000 permit fee in order to be considered. The city received 14 business proposals, resulting in $70,000 just to process the paperwork with no guarantee of success on the part of the applicant.
Some community members expressed strong objections to allowing cannabis production within the city, stating concerns such as cannabis dispensaries were likely to attract an unsavory element to Oakdale.
“I am totally against this and I did not vote for this,” Cheryl Figueroa said. “I don’t want to see the dispensaries and I don’t want Oakdale to attract certain types of people and that’s what is going to happen. I want a safe and sober community for my grandchildren.”
Former councilman and business owner, Michael Brennan shared his concern that the ordinance, as written, was too restrictive and smacked of intrusive government control over an issue that is now legal within California.
“Why are you turning innocent citizens into criminals? Why?” Brennan asked, referencing the ACP addendum to the ordinance. “My recommendation is to remove the permit. Treat marijuana as it was. Yes, it’s here and it always will be … if you keep the Administrative Cultivation Permit requirement, you might as well add in the cost of handcuffs, too.”
Brennan also took the council to task for the decision to relegate dispensaries to the city’s fringe, saying it would have the opposite desired effect. “Quit trying to be Big Brother. Put the retail where it belongs. Hiding it just makes the curious want to try it all the more. Quit being ridiculous.”
The crowd erupted into applause, encouraging more people to share their thoughts and feelings on the subject.
Community member Brent Ferguson also cautioned the council to be wary of overregulating.
“Think of it like alcohol … it would be a lot easier to regulate if you did. If you regulate this into the ground, you will have a thriving black market. Take a sense of rationality on this topic,” Ferguson said.
Similar to the first hearing, community members shared how cannabis changed their quality of life, enabling those with chronic pain or cancer to reduce or eliminate their need for opiates.
Heather Castillo, former Air Force servicewoman, said a broken neck nearly left her slaved to strong painkillers until she discovered cannabis for medicinal purposes.
“Every time you go to the doctor they want to give you opiates and that problem is way bigger than this one,” Castillo stated, adding that the city’s proposed regulations were a disappointment, reminding them that their restrictions could adversely affect those who rely upon cannabis for medical reasons. “Please keep in mind there are 70 and 80 year-olds using cannabis.”
Adam French, speaking on behalf of Stanislaus Consolidated, read a letter of support from the fire department, that boiled down to dollars and cents.
French referenced the city’s decision to downsize in 2013 due to budgetary constraints.
“Many people lost their jobs,” French reminded the council.
With more money funneling into the city coffers, the city can pay for more public safety.
“We can increase our level of protection for the citizens,” French said.
Mayor Pro-Tem Tom Dunlop, who was the key proponent behind the stringent regulations regarding the in-home cultivation, said, “Information is crucial. I think it’s important to take a conservative path and cautious approach to make sure we do this right.”
In response to the criticism, Dunlop reminded community members that council had the option of amending the ordinance if they deemed change was necessary. However, for the time being, he believed a year with the current ordinance was needed to determine if revisions were necessary going forward.