California Weed

Sacramento to consider raising cap on pot dispensaries to promote minority ownership

Marijuana buds for sale in Sacramento last year. The Sacramento City Council could lift the cap on the number of cannabis dispensaries allowed to operate in the city limits to give people of the color the opportunity to own dispensaries.
Marijuana buds for sale in Sacramento last year. The Sacramento City Council could lift the cap on the number of cannabis dispensaries allowed to operate in the city limits to give people of the color the opportunity to own dispensaries. Bee file

In an effort to give people of color the opportunity to play a role in Sacramento’s growing marijuana economy, the city council is considering lifting the cap on the number of cannabis dispensaries allowed to operate in the city.

The number of city-permitted dispensaries has stayed at 30 since 2014, said Joe Devlin, the city’s chief of cannabis policy. When recreational cannabis became legal in California nearly a year ago, most of the 30 medical marijuana dispensaries that already existed in the city began selling recreational cannabis as well, and no new dispensaries were allowed to open.

None of those dispensary owners are black, according to Malaki Seku Amen, of California Urban Partnership. A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said the city does not track the race of dispensary owners.

To help people of color – as well as those with previous drug-related convictions – have better access to the booming cannabis industry, the city in August approved a program called the Dispensaries in the Cannabis Opportunity Reinvestment and Equity (CORE) program, which waives permit fees on dispensaries. Due to the cap, however, no new dispensaries in the city can be opened when the CORE program begins.

“The outcome I’m looking for is expanding the pool of people who own dispensaries and make sure our (CORE) participants have the opportunity to own a dispensary,” Councilman Larry Carr said.

CORE participants aren’t limited to dispensaries alone, and they can also receive mentoring and assistance to help them work in the industry in other ways, such as testing, delivery and manufacturing.

Councilmen Carr, Allen Warren, Rick Jennings II, all said during Tuesday’s meeting that they wanted to see CORE participants have the ability to own dispensaries, leading Carr to request a council discussion on lifting the cap.

If any of the existing dispensaries happen to close, the city could also conceivably decide to give preference to a CORE applicant, Mayor Darrell Steinberg said.

The council’s four-member Law and Legislation Committee plans to determine that, likely next year, said Councilman Jay Schenirer, committee chair.

If the full council eventually votes to increase the cap, it would probably be 2020 before any new dispensaries opened, Devlin said.

“If they decide to lift the cap, there’s a lot of work to be done,” Devlin said.

Councilmen Steve Hansen, Eric Guerra and Jeff Harris – also members of the Law and Legislation Committee – expressed concerns Tuesday that the dispensaries are not evenly distributed throughout the city.

Seventeen of the 30 physical dispensaries are clustered in industrial fringes of the city – such as Fruitridge Manor, Florin Fruitridge Industrial Park and the areas north of Cal Expo – the rest being around the city’s center.

“I noticed there are districts that have zero and so how do we make sure that licenses are in places that currently have none?” Hansen said.

Many of the dispensaries operate in the city’s outer industrial and manufacturing areas because the council in 2010 prohibited them to be near schools, churches and tobacco shops, Devlin said.

Since then, the city loosened those distance rules, prompting at least three dispensaries to submit applications with the city to move in to downtown and midtown, Devlin said.

“We’re beginning to see the re-shifting of those dispensaries,” Devlin said.

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