An effort to change the city’s zoning codes to allow an expansion of cannabis shops was delayed and referred to a city committee for further review this week, after it was poised to get a hearing in front of the City Council just days ago.
As of late last week, the City Council was poised to vote on the zoning change, which would have expanded the allowable number of cannabis dispensaries in the city from one to three in Councilman John J. Kennedy’s council district.
That district has sparked interest from three cannabis retailers, one of which is up and running. Two others can’t move forward, however, because the city’s cannabis ordinance limits the number of such businesses to one in each of the city’s six council districts.
City staffers recommended the change to allow for the three, but at a council meeting last week, John J. Kennedy called for a halt, citing “red flags” over the change, which would affect his district the most.
Concerns over dispensary distance requirements from sensitive land uses such as schools and houses of worship, the number of potential retailers per district and the impact of a coming redistricting effort all warranted a delay, officials said.
The council unanimously agreed to give the hearing another try on Monday, but citing Kennedy’s concerns City Manager Steven Mermell pulled it. That sparked the ire and questions from some on the council and critics of the city’s cannabis process, which is already fraught with litigation and charges of unfairness.
City Councilman Tyron Hampton questioned the pulling of the hearing, arguing that since the council voted to have the hearing, it should have the authority to cancel it, not the city manager.
“We literally voted on it,” Hampton said. “Shouldn’t the council vote to not have that discussion? I’m very confused by this rationale. We voted on a public hearing to come back to us. Wouldn’t the council have to vote on removing it?”
Mermell and City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris said because Mermell brought the application for the zoning change, he had the discretion of removing the item — a point that continued to get questions from Hampton and others.
“It was agreed that, in effect, I am sort of the applicant and I can withdraw the applicant and that is what I did, and that’s why the matter is not being presented this afternoon,” Mermell said, adding the council can bring it back when they want to.
Councilman Steve Madison said he was disappointed in the way it was handled, given the gravity of the current commerical cannabis debate over the city’s policy.
“This was more than an application,” he said. “It was a review of a regulatory scheme that may relate to litigation and important public policies. There’s a feeling that because of the impending deadline or applications under the public policy scheme that a substantive result on the merits is the outcome here, because this council can’t now act on the regulatory scheme, as we were intending to do.”
That deadline – for dispensary businesses to get permitted to operated in district 3 — is in June, though officials say they can move that back.
With the delay, the issue was given to the council’s Economic Development and Technology Committee to review the city’s policy and regulations, along with what Mayor Victor Gordo called a search to find “lessons learned” so far about what has been a dramatic rollout of the city’s policy on commercial cannabis.
Harvest of Pasadena LLC is already up and running in Kennedy’s district. But two others, SweetFlower Pasadena LLC and The Atrium Group LLC are also vying for commercial space in a city that doesn’t have a lot of it — for cannabis dispensaries.
That limited space, coupled with the prospect of millions of dollars in revenue if a spot is secured, has set off a scramble of legal fights and allegations of unfairness that have echoed since the the city’s voters approved retail cannabis in 2018.
At the core of some allegations have been charges that the city’s planning department staffers tipped off Integral Associated Dena, LLC, to new permitting requirements before such rules were announced to the rest of the field.
That allegation underpins litigation against the city. It was also at the core of allegations probed in a 22-page 2019 report by an outside legal firm, leaked last week, that found that while city staffers could have better communicated the new requirements there was no evidence of wrongdoing.