Pasadena’s plan to solve its pot problems gets panned

City Manager Steve Mermell’s proposed fix for Pasadena’s cannabis law has been firmly shot down by the Planning Commission, which held a preliminary hearing to review the suggestions on Wednesday, Nov. 13. Facing down multiple lawsuits and significant criticism over its retail cannabis application process, last month the city manager suggested loosening the city’s strict laws to allow more marijuana storefronts in the city. While the final decision will be made at a City Council meeting later this month, if the amendment ultimately passes, it will run afoul of the Planning Commission’s recommendation. The group decided with a 6-1-1 vote, with commissioners Donald Nanney abstaining and David Coher opposed, that the city’s existing ordinance is mostly fine as-is. The ordinance legalizing retail marijuana shops passed by voters last summer came with strict provisions: Only one retailer would be allowed in each council district; only six could operate at once; and each had to be an adequate distance from sensitive uses, such as schools and rehab centers — plus they had to be 1,000 feet from any other cannabis store. But when it came time for the cannabis retailers to actually find storefronts, an already-difficult process only got tougher. Echoing city staff, Mermell said last month there were only four legal locations in the city. Two of the city’s six approved applicants were left out in the cold without a viable storefront location — Sweet Flower Pasadena and the Atrium Group. The latter subsequently filed a lawsuit against the city. Mermell’s tweaks would have allowed three cannabis shops in each district and reduced the distance requirements between each from 1,000 feet to 450. This would’ve put four marijuana retailers near Old Pasadena: Sweet Flower Pasadena, Integral Associates Dena, the Atrium Group and Harvest of Pasadena, all on Colorado Boulevard and walkable from one another. “There was clearly an intent to spread them around,” Commissioner Blair Miller said; her colleagues agreed. Although the provision voters approved allows the City Council to make changes to it, the commissioners believed the proposed language went too far. “This notion of voter intent is really difficult in hindsight,” Commissioner Steven Olivas said. “I do think the council district requirement is very clear. … I have a problem with three of them being in one district.” Pasadena parents and residents who spoke during public comment raised similar concerns, also arguing it represented a risk to teens who attend high school nearby and walk into Old Pasadena after school. “People were really generous to vote yes on this, but now we’re not getting what we wanted,” parent Erika Foy said in an interview the day after she spoke during public comment. The commissioners resoundingly moved to recommend that the City Council reject the proposed amendment. However, they did suggest that the council make one change to clarify the language that defined boundary lines for measuring the distance between cannabis shops and residential zones. That recommendation was passed 6-2 with commissioners Coher and Felicia Williams voting against. The latter recommendation was made after the Planning Commission turned down the city’s top scoring applicant, Integral Associates Dena, weeks earlier, finding its proposed storefront was too close to a residential zone. That didn’t sit well with Williams, who said this change benefited only one retailer. “We denied (the application) on the basis of this language,” she said, arguing if the commission were changing the rules for one applicant, they might as well change the rules for all the applicants. “We’re on a slippery slope.” Commissioner Jason Lyon and most of his colleagues disagreed, saying it was a necessary “technical fix” because the city will likely encounter this same problem with future applicants. The day after the vote, Mermell said in a statement, “Cannabis issues are complex. The Planning Commission understood why staff was making the recommendation but had concerns about the particular approach offered.” He added the Planning Commission’s comments “will help inform the discussion with the City Council.” That discussion, along with an appeal of Integral Associate Dena’s denied application, is expected before the end of the year.
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City Manager Steve Mermell’s proposed fix for Pasadena’s cannabis law has been firmly shot down by the Planning Commission, which held a preliminary hearing to review the suggestions on Wednesday, Nov. 13.

Facing down multiple lawsuits and significant criticism over its retail cannabis application process, last month the city manager suggested loosening the city’s strict laws to allow more marijuana storefronts in the city.

While the final decision will be made at a City Council meeting later this month, if the amendment ultimately passes, it will run afoul of the Planning Commission’s recommendation. The group decided with a 6-1-1 vote, with commissioners Donald Nanney abstaining and David Coher opposed, that the city’s existing ordinance is mostly fine as-is.

The ordinance legalizing retail marijuana shops passed by voters last summer came with strict provisions: Only one retailer would be allowed in each council district; only six could operate at once; and each had to be an adequate distance from sensitive uses, such as schools and rehab centers — plus they had to be 1,000 feet from any other cannabis store.

But when it came time for the cannabis retailers to actually find storefronts, an already-difficult process only got tougher. Echoing city staff, Mermell said last month there were only four legal locations in the city. Two of the city’s six approved applicants were left out in the cold without a viable storefront location — Sweet Flower Pasadena and the Atrium Group. The latter subsequently filed a lawsuit against the city.

Mermell’s tweaks would have allowed three cannabis shops in each district and reduced the distance requirements between each from 1,000 feet to 450. This would’ve put four marijuana retailers near Old Pasadena: Sweet Flower Pasadena, Integral Associates Dena, the Atrium Group and Harvest of Pasadena, all on Colorado Boulevard and walkable from one another.

“There was clearly an intent to spread them around,” Commissioner Blair Miller said; her colleagues agreed.

Although the provision voters approved allows the City Council to make changes to it, the commissioners believed the proposed language went too far.

“This notion of voter intent is really difficult in hindsight,” Commissioner Steven Olivas said. “I do think the council district requirement is very clear. … I have a problem with three of them being in one district.”

Pasadena parents and residents who spoke during public comment raised similar concerns, also arguing it represented a risk to teens who attend