After a five year moratorium against commercial cannabis activity in the city of Riverside, proponents of legalized retail cannabis won a decisive victory at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. With a 5-2 vote, Council approved a new ordinance permitting cannabis retail operations as well as manufacturing and testing facilities. Councilmembers Cervantes, Edwards, Fierro, and Hemmenway voted for the ordinance; Councilmemebrs Conder and Perry voted against.
The Back Story
After the California voters legalized marijuana for use by adults 21 and older in 2016, the City of Riverside passed a moratorium on commercial cannabis for the purpose of understanding the cannabis industry further prior to considering it being legally allowed to operate in the City. In 2018, the city codified a prohibition of commercial cannabis operations throughout the City.
In September 2021, a group of cannabis retailers notified the City of their intention to petition for “a fair and reasonable regulatory environment for cannabis businesses.” In November 2021, Ward 3’s Councilmember Fierro said “the City of Riverside took a wait-and-see approach initially. But it’s long overdue for our city to discuss how we can regulate and subsequently benefit from this new and exciting industry.” City staff developed new regulations over the course of 2022 which passed through the Planning Commission in December 2021 and came to Council February 28, 2023.
“If there are negative effects to the sale of cannabis in your city, we are already experiencing them. You can go right across the bridge at Mt. Rubidoux and be at a shop within minutes,” Fierro advocated at last night’s meeting. “Most importantly we want to maintain local control. We don’t want a ballot initiative that is put forward by ‘the industry’ – an operator from outside the city who simply wants to get in place what they want.”
Ward 4 Councilmemebr Conder said “I’m sick and tired of people saying this is inevitable. This is not inevitable; that is a threat by the industry.”
Ward 7 Councilmemeber Hemmenway responded saying “we are taking local control and being very specific and particular with how we implement the next steps. We will have better results if we are controlling how we think how [this ordinance] moves forward.”
The New Rules
Nicholas Adcock, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce spoke to Councimemebers during the discussion saying “if the Council decides to move forward with this ordinance… we want to make sure that we’re moving forward with the best possible possible ordinance that prioritizes selecting the best operators possible.’
Nearly a dozen advocates from the cannabis industry spoke in favor of the new ordinance, which was slightly amended during the discussion to increase the required distance from schools-12 schools from 500 to 1,000 feet.
The proposed new ordinance includes:
- Permitting cannabis retail, manufacturing/distribution, and laboratory testing operations.
- 14 annually renewable permits for cannabis retail stores.
- A permitting process with new fees, a Labor Peace Agreement, and Community Benefit criteria.
- Location requirements that keep cannabis business 1,000 feet from K-12 schools, and some other community centers.
- Security requirements that include exterior lighting, security cameras, on-site security personnel, and a designated “security liaison answerable to City Manager and Police.”
Cannabis cultivation is not permitted inside city limits with the new ordinance.
City staff will prepare to accept permit applications as soon as this July. By November, Council will also aim to adopt a resolution placing a Cannabis Tax Measure on the ballot for the November 2024 General Election.