The Palm Springs City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a new schedule for municipal fines that can be levied on cannabis-related businesses that violate the city rules governing them.
In 2019, Palm Springs adopted a set of revised regulations for cannabis businesses, such as dispensaries and production operations, that was motivated largely by concerns raised by residents about the impact of odors those businesses can produce.
Those regulations outlined several code violations and listed maximum administrative fine amounts the city could administer to businesses that commit them. Maximum fine amounts were set for first, second and third violations within a year. Businesses that commit a second violation are also subject to a possible six-month suspension of their business permits while those that commit a third violation can have their permits revoked.
However, the regulations did not provide any guidance in determining how much businesses should be fined for particular violations beyond setting those maximums. According to a memo to the council from City Manager Justin Clifton, the new fine schedule is intended to provide more clarity by distinguishing between types of violations and setting fines for each.
The new schedule differentiates between minor, moderate and serious violations. The schedule for minor violations is $500 for a first violation within a year, $1,000 for a second and $5,000 for a third. The schedule for moderate violations is $2,500 for a first violation within a year, $7,500 for a second and $10,000 for a third. For serious violations, it’s $5,000 for a first, $10,000 for a second and $25,000 for a third. The overall maximum fines remain the same and will now be levied for third violations at each level.
Clifton said in the memo that city staff suggested a strict fee schedule rather than one with amount ranges for the fines to “ensure even-handed enforcement and clarity to business [permit holders] and city code enforcement staff.”
For violations that fall into more than one category, the greatest of the possible fines outlined in the schedule will be levied.
A city staff member who presented the schedule said the city has found such administrative citations “very effective” in enforcing the rules that govern short-term vacation rentals.
The city’s code enforcement division is responsible for enforcing cannabis regulations and levying administrative fines. On June 10, the city council approved the hiring of two code enforcement officers assigned strictly to cannabis code enforcement and regulation.
The only comments about the ordinance came from Councilmembers Dennis Woods and Geoff Kors, who asked whether the violations could be appealed to the city’s administrative hearing board. When told they could be, Woods questioned whether the fine amounts could also be appealed and was told they could not be, only the violations themselves.
Here is how some of the violations are categorized on the schedule:
- Selling cannabis goods that are unlabeled: Serious
- Failing to notify the city of criminal convictions or civil judgments against the business permit holder, or of suspected theft or loss of business inventory within 48 hours: Serious
- Failing to provide security measures sufficient to restrict access only to authorized personnel and to deter trespass and theft of cannabis goods: Serious
- Not using alternative fuel vehicles in a fleet for transporting cannabis: Moderate
- Failing to obey California labor laws: Moderate
- Failing to illuminate entrances and windows and comply with city light standards: Minor
The new schedule also maintains the same penalties for odor-specific violations described in the revised regulations.
Those penalties are as follows: Businesses that exceed the permitted odor threshold but are not otherwise out of control with their filed odor control plan are given a warning and seven days to mitigate the issues before they are then forced to cease operations until they do.
Businesses that exceed the threshold and are also out of compliance with their odor control plan are fined $10,000 and given 30 days to remedy the issues and come into compliance. An additional $10,000 fine is then issued for each month the permit holder fails to remedy the odor issues. If a permit holder receives three administrative citations, the permit shall automatically be revoked.
Businesses that violate approved odor thresholds and are engaging in unpermitted cannabis activity are levied a $25,000 fine and may have all their permits revoked.
You can reach out to Paul on Twitter at @albaniburgiop and via email at PAlbaniBurgio@gannett.com.