Committee stalemates on growing marijuana

ENCINITAS — An Encinitas council subcommittee has punted the issue of whether the city should allow farmers to grow cannabis to the full council after stalemating on a recommendation.

Councilman Joe Mosca and Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz, who comprise the two-member subcommittee, could not reach a consensus on whether to recommend the council pass an ordinance that would allow for limited cultivation within the city limits on agriculturally zoned property.

Kranz said he supports allowing farmers to cultivate cannabis, while Mosca said he favored the city prohibit all cannabis-related activities, including cultivation, processing, storefronts, dispensaries and delivery services.

They rendered their decision at the Sept. 28 meeting, the subcommittee’s final meeting.

The two council members had met several times over the last six months, as the debate over cannabis in Encinitas has become increasingly polarizing over the same time period, the debate having spilled over into the regular City Council meetings.

Kranz said he saw allowing farmers to grow cannabis, which was legalized in California with the passage of Proposition 64 in November 2016, as an extension of the city’s agricultural heritage.

“We have a group of people committed to growing and keeping the agricultural industry alive in Encinitas,” Kranz said. “It makes sense to not tie the hands of our farmers.”

Mosca, however, said he didn’t see cannabis cultivation as a good fit with Encinitas, and would be more comfortable with putting a ban in place and potentially allowing voters to decide the future of cannabis cultivation in Encinitas.

“I still feel uncomfortable that this is a compatible use with the city,” Mosca said. “I think it would be easier for the council to put in place a ban and then walk it back at a later date.”

Kranz and Mosca said the City Council would likely take up the cannabis question during a special meeting in October.

More than 40 people spoke at the Sept. 28 meeting before Kranz and Mosca announced their positions, as activists and residents on both sides of the divide pleaded with the council to support their positions.

Bob Echter, who owns Dramm and Echter, the city’s largest flower grower, spearheaded the discussion for the pro-cannabis crowd. Echter said that in addition to keeping his business stable, marijuana cultivation would provide the city tax revenue and his company would be providing maximum security, odor control and banking that would limit the amount of cash on site, one of Mosca’s major concerns.

Meg Sanders, a cannabis industry expert who spoke during the meeting on Echter’s behalf, reiterated some of those points. Sanders said two large cities in Colorado, Denver and Aurora, have passed zero-tolerance odor policies for cannabis farms, and farmers have obliged by using state-of-the-art technology to comply with the laws.

She also said that some “forward thinking” banks are allowing growers open accounts and draft checks, which is reducing the amount of cash at the farms.

“Cash is becoming less and less of an issue,” Sanders said.

The revenue from the cannabis industry, she said, has been a boon in Colorado, citing the city of Edgewater, where officials are building a new city hall with the revenue from cannabis.

On the other side of the issue, Encinitas Union School District board member Leslie Schneider and San Dieguito Union High School District board member Maureen “Mo” Muir delivered the opening presentation for the anti-cannabis contingent.

Representing the group Encinitas Citizens Against Pot, Schneider and Muir argued that the revenue proponents of cultivation tout would be realized only after the cost of a special election, which one San Diego-based group is proposing.

They also cited San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman’s opposition to San Diego’s cultivation bid — which the council there passed — in which Zimmerman said the revenue did not offset the increased cost to the public by way of increased demand on public safety and emergency services.

Cannabis, they said, would run against the grain of the city’s character, and most importantly they said, allowing it to be grown would send the message of acceptability to the city’s youth.

“It lends an air of legitimacy to a bad industry,” Schneider said. “Why in the world would we want to be a part of it?”

Other opponents expressed concern about violence associated with the drug trade coming to Encinitas with cultivation, which they said is being pushed solely by Echter.

“This has been the Bob Echter show for marijuana,” said Jason Yarbrough, who spoke in rebuttal to Sanders.

Proponents argued that cultivation would not lead to increased drug use by youth, using the parallel of a city approving a prescription drug manufacturer in the city limits.

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