It’s been five years since California voters legalized adult-use Cannabis through Proposition 64. But Riverside, California isn’t exactly avant-garde. In fact, as unlikely as it may seem, the Inland Empire’s largest city still bans cannabis shops.
But the long-awaited end to marijuana prohibition may be coming, reports The Press-Enterprise.
A Riverside City Council committee seems likely to open the door to 14 marijuana shops in the city of about 315,000 residents. They’re expected to place a measure on the November 2022 ballot to tax legal marijuana sales. Council Member Ronaldo Fierro, the committee chair, said the tax could be in the 3% to 5% range.
At the same time, a group is preparing to gathers signatures on a petition to qualify a citizen initiative for the ballot to repeal Riverside’s ban.
Two Competing Measures?
Riverside resident Saul Rodriguez Jr. gave notice last month that he intends to collect petition signatures. According to a city document, the initiative allows one retail shop per 32,000 residents, plus three stores in downtown, and authorizes a 3% tax.
The plan also calls for 10 Cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, distribution or testing businesses.
Councilman Fierro said Thursday, Dec. 2, that he hopes backers of the initiative will drop their campaign to avoid two competing measures landing on the ballot. That, he said, “would be less than ideal” and confuse voters.
Gause wrote that the proponent may start gathering signatures after publishing a notice in the newspaper. To qualify for the ballot, she said, backers will need to collect valid signatures of 16,079 voters by May 17. That represents 10% of registered voters in the city.
The city panel charting an alternative path is the Economic Development, Placemaking, and Branding/Marketing Committee. The three-member committee met Nov. 18.
‘Long Overdue Conversation’ In Riverside
“This is a long overdue conversation to discuss the lifting of the city of Riverside’s prohibition on cannabis and the creation of an ordinance that will formally welcome this new and rapidly growing industry into our local economy,” Fierro told colleagues, according to a meeting videotape.
“The city took a wait-and-see approach initially,” Fierro said. But Riverside’s Cannabis prohibition is, he said, “at best, misguided at this point in time.”
Riverside has an opportunity to develop a better policy based on research and input from residents, according to Fierro. And he added a marijuana-entrepreneur-led initiative could end up setting rules for the industry.
City government also has the potential to reap significant tax revenue, given the size of the Riverside market, Fierro said.
“We’re the biggest city in the region,” he said. “We’re the economic center of the region.”
City Council Could Take Up Matter In February
City officials plan to bring a proposal to the committee in January, Fierro said. The full City Council could then take up the matter in February.
The committee asked city officials to draft a plan focused on pot shops. For now, cultivation, processing, distribution and manufacturing facilities would not be permitted.
Retail shops are what the city is under the most pressure to allow and what the public wants most, the councilman saiid. And, significantly, they offer the greatest potential for boosting city revenue. Fierro wants to address the retail side first, then later consider adding other types of marijuana enterprises.
Shops Allowed In Commercial And Industrial Zones
Caleb Ragan, Fierro’s representative at the committee meeting, said marijuana shops would be allowed in commercial and industrial zones. He said they would need to be 100 feet from residential zones. They must be 1,000 feet from K-12 schools, day care centers, youth centers, parks and libraries.
Ragan said 11 of 18 western Riverside County cities, plus the county government have adopted ordinances permitting marijuana businesses.
Council Member and committee member Erin Edwards said ending the prohibition came up often when she campaigned for the Ward 1 seat in 2019.
“There’s one conversation in particular I remember with a resident who sat on his front porch with me and begged me to help bring this industry out of the shadows because of the violence that can be accompanied with it,” Edwards said.