Richmond council sets new limit on marijuana dispensaries; opens door to edibles manufacturing

Richmond council sets new limit on medical marijuana dispensaries in city; approves allowing 3 edibles manufacturing sites

Richmond City Council on Tuesday reduced the number of permits for medical marijuana dispensaries in the city from six to three, but also opened up three additional permits for edibles manufacturing sites.

The city currently has three operating dispensaries. A fourth permit holder has for years struggled to find a location for a dispensary given zoning restrictions and neighbor opposition. That permit holder, who has been paying the city permit fees despite not being able to open a shop, will be allowed to open a dispensary despite the new three-permit limit, but needs to do so by summer in order to keep the permit. If a fourth dispensary does open, the city will reduce the number of permits back down to three through attrition.

Supporters of the new permit limit say Richmond’s population of 107,000 is adequately served by three dispensaries, and note the city has one of the highest numbers of shops per capita in the Bay Area. Also, since zoning restrictions and neighbor opposition has made opening a fourth dispensary extremely difficult, supporters say it makes more sense to offer up an additional three permits for the manufacturing of marijuana-infused edibles.  Those sites, which would pay the same fees to the city as dispensaries, would be allowed to operate in light industrial zones, where dispensaries are prohibited, and presumably would not face community opposition.

Isaac Lappert of Richmond-based Lappert’s Ice Cream could benefit from such a permit, as he has been making headlines producing award-winning marijuana-infused ice cream.

“By including manufacturing permits, that includes fees,” said Councilmember Jovanka Beckles said, who proposed the new permitting rules along with Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin. “We aren’t going to be losing any revenue [by limiting the number of dispensaries to three].”

Councilmembers Nat Bates and Vinay Pimple voted against Tuesday’s amendment, arguing that limiting the number of medical marijuana dispensaries to three is an anti-competitive measure that gives permit holders a monopoly comparable to a cartel. Also, the dissenting members believe the city, which has a budget deficit, is losing out on much-needed tax revenue by limiting the number of dispensaries.

Last year, city officials estimated that the four marijuana permits have made a small profit for the city when adding in the cost to regulate them.

As part of Tuesday’s vote, council asked staff to look into the possibility of small-scale marijuana-infused edibles preparation at dispensaries. It also asked staff to examine the potential for dispensaries to have off-site marijuana grow locations in the city.