Hemet City Council eyes future commercial cannabis business regulations in the city

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Hemet City Council, after nearly a year of prohibiting any form of commercial cannabis cultivation, sales or testing in the city, held a workshop to discuss an ordinance permitting limited medical cannabis business operations.

Hemet city manager Chris Lopez, following the direction of the council from Jan. 14, presented a study from city staff and a consultant on the types and number of cannabis businesses which could be permitted in the city; which restrictions will be required and which permit processes should be implemented.

HdL Companies was contracted to provide cannabis consulting services, which included the development of a cannabis ordinance and regulatory management program.

Lopez outlined four questions to be answered by the council, which would help determine how an ordinance can be implemented. The questions he asked the council included: What types of cannabis businesses should the city of Hemet allow? How many of each type should be allowed? What restrictions should be established? What type of application process should be developed?

With each question, the consultant made recommendations about their effect on the community and the application process required.

At the conclusion of the presentation, the council directed the city manager to create an ordinance that would allow four sustainable retail cannabis outlets and no more than 10 wholesale outlets with all of them located in a designated industrial zoned area and buffered from anywhere children might congregate like parks, schools, playgrounds and gyms, none in the residential or commercial areas.

Cannabis businesses will be required go through the same application process as other businesses in the city with conditional use permits that could be revoked with any violations. The applicants would be approved by merit or favorable history.

The proposed ordinance will be brought back to the council for further discussion and final approval.

Following the workshop, the council convened its regular meeting with an update on the coronavirus emergency declaration receiving the greatest attention.

Lopez told the council that he joined a conference call hosted by Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington, May 7, which provided input and recommendations for reopening businesses within the county. He said the county is gathering opinions from all the surrounding cities on when, if and how all businesses could open safely in light of the coronavirus. He said most cities and counties have decided that parts of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Phase 2 coronavirus reopening plan are completely unattainable, particularly the requirement for “No new coronavirus cases for 14 days.”

Yet, Lopez said the county is allowing some “nonessential” businesses to open, provided they stick to storefront pickups only as approved in Phase 2, require customers to wear masks and keep the 6-foot social distancing measures in place.

Lopez asked the council to collectively provide its preference and thoughts on reopening, and he asked what the council would like to see when the region begins to reopen. Earlier, the council did agree to retain the Riverside County health officer as the city’s health officer and observe the county’s quarantine regulations, order and other rules. Several members of the council suggested the city hire or name its own health officer but that was rejected by the majority because of costs.

Councilmember Michael Perciful, on a teleconference, made a motion to have the city reject the county health officer’s orders and open all businesses, respecting the social distancing edict.

He said the governor’s Phase 2 plan was “despicable.

“It is time for the city of Hemet to take a stand against the state of California. Everyone should have the right to do what they want to do,” Perciful said.

He said the city should make a decision to open all businesses to avoid even more financial problems than businesses and the city already faces.

In a later discussion, he argued the resulting coronavirus action taken by the Congress in shutting down all “nonessential” businesses in the nation thus far.

“Is the most un-American thing that has happened in the United States ever,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Linda Krupa said she didn’t think the county rescinded any of the state’s Phase 2 requirements for fear of losing state bailout money the city might receive. She also said defying the state and county orders could hurt businesses even more.

“I don’t want our local businesses to get fined or lose their licenses,” Krupa said. “We can’t take away his (the governor’s) authority.”

Councilmember Karlee Meyer, while agreeing the state and county Phase 2 was unsustainable for local businesses, said they still “have to take the responsibility” in reopening early. She suggested that every city in the area should take the time to write their own letters appealing for changes in the Phase 2 requirements. Currently, the mayors of most Inland Empire cities have written a joint letter to the governor, asking him to revise his Phase 2 orders.

“Sending a letter is not going to do anything,” Perciful said.

Councilmember Bonnie Wright said she feared any action to contradict the state and county coronavirus orders could put any compensation funding for the city’s coronavirus costs in jeopardy for the city.

Mayor Russ Brown said, “Going on as we are is unsustainable and unattainable…I think the state is going about it the wrong way. I hope our message is getting there (Sacramento).”

Lopez was told to keep the council informed of the state and county mandates and to message the county with their views. No official action by the council was taken to rescind the county health department orders.

The council also chose to change its insurance authority over to the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority and to execute an agreement with the new firm that will delegate the tort liability claims when they are made. The CJPIA-EIA pools the city’s workers’ compensation coverage funding with other cities and counties on the same program. The council saw greater insurance coverage benefits from the CJPIA-EIAS over its longtime carrier the CSAC-EIA.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.