Emeryville is set to fully legalize medical marijuana deliveries in thirty days and could see its first dispensary, as well as cannabis labs in the coming year.
In a special study session on Tuesday evening, Emeryville city councilmembers called for an urgency ordinance to immediately legalize delivery of medical marijuana into Emeryville by current regional providers. “I have heard from people who are in pain,” said Councilmember Nora Davis.
The council also will permit at least one medical marijuana dispensary to serve its 10,000-person population and could make Emeryville a cannabis laboratory hub, analogous to its thriving biotech industry.
The historic session on Tuesday marked a new chapter in the tiny, strategically located city and its marijuana history — it has total bans on all pot activity — and is one of the clearest examples yet of statewide regulations incubating local progress.
The enaction of new state regulations — the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA) — is bringing the issue of what exactly to do about marijuana to city councils and county boards like never before.
MMRSA’s dual licensing structure calls for both local and state permits, and initially forced jurisdictions to either ban, punt, or craft local rules.
Most cities have gone the easiest route: a ban. But each week and month, more are beginning to allow deliveries, dispensaries, and sometimes cultivation.
In response to MMRSA, Emeryville staff attorneys prepared a report and set of questions for council.
At City Hall last night, just a Frisbee’s throw from the famous animation studio, Pixar, Emeryville Mayor Dianne Martinez and councilmembers Nora Davis, Ruth Atkin, and Jac Asher began to ascend the learning curve of regulating medical pot. They asked city staffers and experts in the audience about how to get medical marijuana cards and how much a growing pot plant might stink.
By the end, Davis called for an immediate urgency ordinance to legalize medical pot deliveries. She said providers have refused to deliver in Emeryville for lack of clarity and patients are suffering. The idea was approved unanimously. The urgency ordinance could come back at the next council meeting in a month and be effective immediately.
Longer term, the council wants details on where to put a single dispensary that could convert to a recreational shop if state voters legalized it.
Emeryville also said ‘no’ to cannabis farming, due to space constraints. The city is just 640 acres and has a policy of approving permits based on the “highest and best use” for the space.
“Let’s leave [farming] to Humboldt,” quipped one council member.
Instead, the council wants more detailed options for cannabis distribution permits, and cannabis labs, they told staff.
The city can generate a substantial amount of local tax revenue from the industry. Staff noted that San Leandro’s dispensary alone could kick in about $61,000 in local taxes in 2016, and around $110,000 in 2017.
“I think this could be very important in setting the table … so that we will be well-poised to take advantage of medical marijuana as an industry,” said Martinez.
“The council wants to chase drug money,” Atkins quipped.
Representatives from the Emeryville Police Department had one comment — calling for adequate security among any providers.
Several citizens spoke in favor of the plan, as well as full legalization. Davis also called for a council vote in support of full legalization. “I’m talking about a basic commitment to living free,” Davis said.
She got nervous laughs from colleagues, who wanted more details.
Atkins also spoke in favor of vape lounges for patients who could not consume in multi-unit dwellings.
And Davis wanted it made clear that ‘mobile marijuana’ did not mean some type of “food truck” setup. “It’s not our intent here,” she said.
Emeryville is part of a quirky patchwork of East Bay medical pot regimes, running from total prohibitions in Albany and Alameda, to robust industries in Oakland and Berkeley. San Leandro has permitted one club, and has a model Asher wants to follow.
Because of its blanket ban, Emeryville also has a blank slate. It can capitalize on MMRSA in specific ways cities with legacy laws cannot, staff attorneys notes. For example, San Leandro doesn’t do a distribution layer.
It’s a strategic gob of land sticking into a huge natural bay. First an indigenous Ohlone village, the land the property of one guy, Emery, who owned some railroads, wikipedia reports. It was the site of massive commerce and industry for a century and a half. It was once called ‘Butchertown’.
“Emeryville used to be as well known for its gambling houses and bordellos as it was for its booming industrial sector; then Alameda County district attorney, later California governor and then Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren once famously called it ‘the rottenest city on the Pacific Coast’. During the Depression, Emeryville was jammed with speakeasies, racetracks and brothels and became known as a somewhat lawless center for entertainment.”
After big industry collapsed in the ‘60s, Emeryville reinvented itself with biotech office space, and the Bay Street Shopping Center. The five-councilperson city has three termed out members in 2016.