Following a backlash over its decision to approve a cannabis delivery business near homes and a school, Novato plans to consider more restrictions on where such businesses can operate.
The City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to plan a discussion on whether the businesses should be allowed in areas zoned for business and commercial spaces and to create setbacks from residential areas. The discussion could prompt more changes to the city’s 2019 cannabis business ordinance for other types of enterprises, such as testing labs, and comes before the city considers the next round of cannabis business applicants later this year.
“If we do choose to take this action, it would be good to take it now so that way new applicants know sort of the landscape this fall,” City Manager Adam McGill told the council before the vote.
Councilwoman Susan Wernick raised the idea after an outcry by San Marin residents over the council’s decision in January to conditionally approve the Highway 420 cannabis delivery business at 205 San Marin Drive. Wernick voted against the project.
Neighbors were concerned about the business backing up against residential areas and felt the location was inappropriate because of its proximity to San Marin High School and the Rolling Hills Club. Others voiced concerns that it would attract crime, though police officials disputed that assumption. No cannabis would have been sold at the location and the public would not have been allowed access to it.
While Highway 420’s application met all of the city’s cannabis regulations, including setbacks from schools and other youth gathering areas, the applicants — longtime Novato residents Jennifer Durham and Justin Pool — decided to withdraw the submission amid the community resistance. The application is still open and they will be able to resubmit a new location for consideration, according to city Community Development Director Vicki Parker.
Based on this experience, Wernick asked the council on Tuesday whether it would consider changes, including requiring delivery businesses to set up further away from schools and neighborhoods.
“Is there other criteria we might want to look at in terms of distance so that residents can be more comfortable with future applications and also that these businesses have more clarity in terms of what sites they should be looking at before they submit an application?” Wernick said.
The city’s recreational and medicinal cannabis business rules require a 600-foot setback from schools and other areas where youths gather. Wernick suggested that the council consider neighborhood setbacks of possibly 1,000 or 1,500 feet.
Another change the council might consider is reducing setbacks for cannabis testing labs. That’s because of issues related to CB Labs, a testing laboratory that has been allowed to operate under the city’s medical marijuana regulations since 2016. Under the new cannabis ordinance, the lab at 1615 Hill Road is violating the 600-setback rule because of its proximity to the Hill Education Center at the Hill Recreation Area. The city has given a one-year extension to work through the issue, according to city attorney Jeff Walter.
Mayor Pat Eklund said most people don’t even realize testing labs are there.
“Now that we have a little bit more experience under our belt, I think it’s very appropriate for us to revisit those buffers,” Eklund said.
CB Labs’ owner, cannabis lawyer and Larkspur councilman Scot Candell, said the exception would be warranted given that the company does not allow public access and has minimal amounts of cannabis onsite, needing only half-gram samples.
“That would be fantastic because we want to pay taxes, we want to be part of the community and contribute,” Candell said Thursday.
Storefront retail cannabis stores will not be part of the upcoming discussion. The council decided earlier this year to delay consideration of allowing storefront locations for a year to determine how the first rounds of business applications pan out.