EL CENTRO — After five years of prohibition or moratorium on cannabis use, council members Tuesday, finally decided to take definitive action whether to allow it or not in the upcoming months.
The council adopted a resolution to continue the prohibition of commercial use of cannabis until June 30, 2020, and will use this time period to study the ramifications for or against it.
“The moratorium was being reviewed every year and kept being extended, but the councils’ consensus and sentiment was—we’re just kicking the can down the road, we have got to make a decision. We cannot do this every year,” said Norma Villicaña, director of community development.
Tuesday night’s lengthy meeting ended at about 11:20 p.m. after a series of agenda items—including a consultant’s presentation on cannabis.
David McPherson, cannabis compliance director with HDL Companies, gave a lengthy presentation filled with fact-laden data collected through years of study of different cities that adopted the use cannabis.
“HDL is a firm that basically help cities come up with regulations and programs as it relates to commercial cannibis use,” said Villicaña. "The goal of McPherson’s presentation was to educate the council and the public to give them options—if you do decide to do a regulation, together with a time line."
According to Villicaña, she and El Centro City Manager Marcela Piedra attended the recent Coachella’s Southern California Cannabis Summit in Coachella and had the opportunity to visit manufacturing and cultivation sites.
“It gave us an idea how the cannabis business is moving forward and the way most of the cities were embracing it—Desert Hot Springs, Coachella, and Cathedral cities,” said Villicaña.
The feedback Villicaña and Piedra gathered was that, “It's just like any regular business. They were required to have a business license and were highly regulated to ensure public safety. What we heard from the staff in those cities was—we don’t have any issues with it.”
Except for one issue.
The most common complaint is odor. In places where cannabis was cultivated in enclosed warehouse buildings without proper ventilation or the appropriate materials to mitigate the odor, the smell became an issue to the surrounding neighborhood. It became a nuisance issue if located in residential areas.
Whereas, if the cultivation is farther from residential areas, it correspondingly and obviously received less complaints.
From their observation on their field trips to retail stores, Villicaña and Piedra noticed that customers knew what cannabis products they were going to purchase. They came in, bought and left. A lot of customers didn’t buy flowers to smoke. Rather, they purchased candies, gummy bears, and edibles. They had packages of candies, brownies, and cookies that have a percentage of cannabis in them, according to Villicaña.
Noticeable was a spike in customers 50 years-old and over who used cannabis for medicinal purposes instead of over the counter medications because it had less side effects, according to feedback Villicaña received.
When asked where council members stood on the issue, Villicaña said it seemed to be equally divided among four council members, and with one—whose vote could sway the direction of the commercial use of cannabis in El Centro.