Though Prop. 64 takes effect Jan. 1, Signal Hill will remain a marijuana-free commercial zone

Courtesy State of California Department of Justice
The table chart illustrates the marijuana-related activities that would be permitted and restricted when Proposition 64 comes into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

California is about to begin a new era, with Proposition 64— the Adult Use of Marijuana Act— set to take effect Jan. 1, 2018. As 57 percent of California voters agreed on November 2016, recreational marijuana use will soon be legal statewide.

But, that doesn’t mean local governments have no say in the matter. The act stipulates that cities and counties can regulate or outright ban commercial-marijuana activities within their jurisdictions. They can also regulate the cultivation of marijuana for personal use that is allowed under the act.

“Local governments may reasonably regulate, but not prohibit, indoor personal cultivation,” explained Colleen Doan, City of Signal Hill senior planner, at the Signal Hill Planning Commission’s Oct. 17 meeting. “They may prohibit outdoor cultivation.”

Signal Hill will do both, with the city council approving ordinances on Nov. 14 that would prohibit all commercial-marijuana activities within the city— including selling, manufacturing, cultivating, testing, distributing and delivering— and banning all outdoor cultivation and restricting indoor cultivation of plants for personal use.

However, the council had also established a special subcommittee on Oct. 10 to investigate the matter further, especially given that 64 percent of Signal Hill voters had voted in favor of Prop. 64.

The subcommittee consists of Mayor Edward Wilson, Councilmember Lori Woods, City Manager Charlie Honeycutt, Police Chief Christopher Nunley and Director of Community Development Scott Charney.

Through working with industry experts, the subcommittee will help the City determine whether or not it should develop a regulatory framework for marijuana activity in the future.

Deputy City Manager Hannah Shin-Heydorn informed the Signal Tribune that, in the meantime, the ordinance amendments would be submitted to the State Bureau of Cannabis Control before the Jan. 1 deadline, after which the State would be able to grant licenses unless otherwise prohibited by local jurisdictions.

“These amendments will allow the City to take the time to learn more about the emerging marijuana industry,” she said. “Personal use and personal cultivation will be allowed per Proposition 64.”

Shin-Heydorn further indicated that the subcommittee has already begun to look further into the matter.

“The designated subcommittee will be spearheading the efforts to work with industry experts to gather information and consider options for future regulations,” she said.

At the Oct. 10 city council meeting, when the subcommittee was formed, Honeycutt had acknowledged that the City intends to solicit public input in its decision-making process.

“Our intent is to do our best to educate the community throughout this process in order for us get a good feel of where the community is on this subject matter,” Honeycutt said at the meeting.

Previously, after a Sept. 12 city council workshop with marijuana-regulation consultant Matt Eaton of HdL Companies, Woods had also expressed the need to ban activities while learning more about the industry.

“I recommend that we move forward with the zoning ordinance [banning marijuana activity] while we do further long-term study,” she said.
At that workshop, Eaton had shared some of the complexities involved in making regulatory decisions, based on his experience in Colorado and other California cities.

For example, cities have to weigh the costs, including water and power resources and noise and odor complaints of individuals growing marijuana at home— up to six indoor plants are allowed for personal use— versus allowing marijuana to be sold in stores.

Following that workshop, the council had asked the city attorney to prepare coding amendments to prohibit all commercial activities and outdoor cultivation and to regulate indoor cultivation, subject to approval by the Signal Hill Planning Commission.

The commission had also approved such regulation after a public hearing at its Oct. 17 meeting.

Doan had shared with the commission that the city council had banned medical-marijuana dispensaries in May 2011 and had prohibited cultivation and delivery services in 2015, following the passage of additional state laws.

“The council noted that Long Beach had dispensaries and so there was no hardship for residents with medical need,” Doan said. “The intent was that the City could avoid [!] legal costs related to efforts to regulate.”

Signal Hill’s stance is thus consistent with its history of avoiding marijuana activities within its boundaries.

Recently approved zoning ordinance amendment 17-01 affects Title 20 of the Signal Hill municipal code (SHMC) to change definitions for commercial-marijuana activity. Additionally, it prohibits personal outdoor cultivation of marijuana plants and regulates personal indoor cultivation.

Another ordinance amendment, 17-02, amends Title 5 of the SHMC on “Business Taxes, Licenses and Regulations” to clarify the details of the prohibited commercial-marijuana activities otherwise permitted under State law and codifies penalties for violations.

The ordinance amendment also affects Title 9 of the SHMC on “Public Peace, Morals and Welfare” by prohibiting outdoor personal cultivation and regulating personal indoor cultivation.

These “reasonable” regulations for indoor cultivation are listed as follows:

– A no-fee, non-transferable permit is required. However, the city council may set a permit fee in the future.
– A maximum of six plants are allowed at any given time, per State law.
– Cultivation is only allowed within a private residence or accessory structure.
– A locked space is required for production of more than 28.5 grams.
– Plants may not be visible to neighbors or from a public right-of-way.
– Odors may not be detectable.
– Related nuisances are not permitted.
– A fire extinguisher is required.
– Electrical draw should not exceed panel-and-circuit capacity.
– Lighting shall be shielded.
– Violations are punishable misdemeanors.

Charney had explained at the Oct. 17 planning commission meeting that these are the codes police officers will cite for infractions.

As California braces for this change, the City of Signal Hill, at least for now, is committed to its prohibitive policy that supports two of its strategic plan goals, as stated on the Nov. 14 City Council meeting agenda— “Goal No. 2: Ensure that public safety is a high priority [and] Goal No. 5: Ensure an enhanced quality of life for residents of the City.”