Commercial cannabis is no longer banned in Barstow, but more work is needed before so-called “pot shops” can legally operate within city limits.
The Barstow City Council on Monday approved a motion to end its prohibition on businesses selling marijuana within city limits. The 17-page ordinance — which passed 4-1 with a dissenting vote from Councilwoman Barbara Rose — lays out a blueprint for how businesses will seek permits, how city officials will regulate approved sites, what methods of growing are and aren’t permitted and more.
Yet, several unresolved terms remain the deciding factor for whether or not a lifted ban will actually translate to a new local industry. Some residents see a major opportunity to spark economic growth in Barstow, while others worry the finalized law will be a buzzkill for fair competition.
The City Council still needs to vote on how lines will be drawn for “green zones,” which are the areas where the shops will actually be permitted. The municipal code’s new language doesn’t currently designate any area within city limits where the businesses are allowed to operate. Rather, it states that no permits can be issued “until the City Council adopts a Resolution specifying allowed and prohibited locations for each type of Cannabis Business.”
Further changes to the municipal code’s language on cannabis could be in the pipeline. The new ordinance sets no limit on how many cannabis businesses are allowed to operate in Barstow at any given time.
It also sets only partial guidelines for how Barstow will collect tax revenue from the new industry. Beyond existing taxes that are collected on all retail sales, the new law doesn’t establish a cannabis tax, though future votes could change that. It instead opts for a fee on applications for cannabis-business permits.
The City Council is tasked with deciding a specific amount for the permit-application fee within 30 days of the Monday meeting. If the council members don’t, the fee will be set at $2,500 per application by default.
Councilman Tim Silva cast the deciding “yes” vote on Monday despite taking multiple issues with the ordinance’s current structure.
“My vote tonight goes against what I believe, but we’re not up here for what we believe,” he said from the dais.
Silva said he only greenlit the ordinance because he’s able to push for multiple amendments. He also hopes to avoid the California Environmental Quality Act’s involvement by accelerating the city-level process, echoing a reference that Building Official Chris Heldreth made to the roughly two-year delay of First Avenue Bridge’s replacement due to noise concerns in the CEQA review of that project.
“I don’t think the noise element should’ve been an issue from day one, but that’s what CEQA can do. It can delay any project,” Silva told The Daily Press after the meeting.
Silva said at the meeting that he plans to push for the finalized cannabis law to be decided as a ballot referendum for all Barstow voters rather than an isolated City Council vote. Rose, the vote’s lone dissenter, agreed with him, indicating she may offer the necessary “second” to solidify such a motion.
Rose said she voted against the ordinance because she felt more time was needed for people to read and mull over the law.
“We need to slow down our processes because every time that we rush something, we miss important things,” Rose said. “We miss important wording that could lead to ramifications.”
The new ordinance still bans outdoor growing for businesses. It does allow most other types of indoor cultivation, along with other activities such as delivery, retail storefronts and “temporary cannabis events” in which people can enjoy marijuana products in stores.
Many local residents spoke at the Monday meeting in favor of legalizing commercial pot.
Barstow Senior Center President Jeff Eason argued that dispensaries are a means of controlling the current flow of illegally-grown pot for residents of all ages.
“Right now in Barstow, you can make five or six phone calls and people will deliver stuff to your house and drive off,” Eason said. “What I’m concerned about is the aspect of where the product comes from, how it’s regulated and how the consumers will have it. Cannabis is here to stay. It’s not going away. You know that.”
Jehad Abuhantash said he has owned multiple businesses in Barstow since 1992 but only seen its economy diminish with hundreds of business closures in that time. Abuhantash tied commercial cannabis to a chance for a broader reversal of that decline.
“Let’s grow Barstow,” he said. “We need more housing. We need more people.”
When the public comment section transitioned from in-person speakers to residents calling in remotely, eight consecutive callers spoke in favor of the ordinance. City Clerk Andrea Flores noted that 240 written comments had also been received on the cannabis topic.
Some public commenters were concerned about the specifics of how these businesses will operate. Former Barstow Councilwoman Carmen Hernandez cast multiple criticisms, including with the ordinance’s default of a $2,500 permit-application fee.
“If you had 100 businesses, you would only make $250,000. Not millions,” she said.
Diana Esmeralda, a former Adelanto City Council candidate, suggested expanding the legislation to include a citizens’ commission for oversight on Barstow’s new cannabis industry.
“We need to make sure that everybody knows what type of licensing is going to be available,” Esmeralda said. “Please be careful of ‘spot zoning,’” she said, referencing a practice of singling out specific parcels of land where cannabis shops are allowed to the benefit of specific owners and the disadvantage of surrounding competitors.
“There are a lot of corporate people on the line right now sniffing around,” she said.
Charlie McGee covers the city of Barstow and its surrounding communities for the Daily Press. He is also a Report for America corps member with the GroundTruth Project, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization dedicated to supporting the next generation of journalists in the U.S. and around the world. McGee may be reached at 760-955-5341 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bycharliemcgee.