Richmond invites outdoor marijuana grows, considers pot cafes

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Richmond City Council voted Tuesday in favor of continuing to allow residents to grow marijuana outdoors for personal use, as long as it doesn’t exceed the state maximum of six plants and if the smell doesn’t bother their neighbors. Meanwhile, the city is considering whether to allow on-site consumption businesses like marijuana cafes and lounges to open.

By a vote of 6-1, with Richmond Councilmember Nat Bates opposing specifically because he does not condone outdoor marijuana grows in residential neighborhoods, City Council passed a number of amendments to its cannabis regulations that aim to adjust to changes in state regulations.

But the council rejected a staff recommendation to prohibit outdoor cultivation of marijuana for personal use. The city receives ample complaints from neighbors about outdoor grows, particularly the odor, said Lina Velasco, the city’s director of Planning and Building Services. State law allows up to six plants to be grown for personal use.

“Our lot sizes are small, so it’s very hard to contain the odors,” Velasco said.

The majority of council, however, expressed support for outdoor growing for personal use. Banning it would force residents to grow indoors, a practice that requires a significant amount of electricity consumption, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said.

That electricity can be costly, as well, which adds a hardship to low-income residents, Councilmember Eduardo Martinez added.

“It has to be done in a way that the odors are not objectionable to the neighbors,” Butt said. “If somebody has a very small lot, and the neighbors are close and they object, maybe it doesn’t work out. Somebody with a large lot, nobody knows.”

The mayor also floated ideas of at minimum requiring commercial growers to use 100-percent renewable energy.

Councilmember Demnlus Johnson sparked the discussion on amending the city’s marijuana ordinance to allow on-site consumption, inviting a marijuana lounge, cafe or other related operation to open in the city. Velasco said it’s a newer idea that’s gaining interest and can be explored.

On Tuesday, council voted in favor of easing regulation to allow the city’s three existing marijuana dispensaries to deliver. It also asked city staff to come back with a plan to invite two non-storefront delivery businesses to open in Richmond city limits. The plan, however, must also include equity considerations for applicants who are low-income, who hire local employees, or who have been arrested or convicted for a cannabis related crime before adult recreational use became legal.

Richmond has been a pioneer regarding marijuana legalization. In the summer of 2016, the City Council lifted the ban on marijuana cultivation and manufacturing, ushering in a flood of facilities, including large-scale production businesses. In June, a cannabis industry forum was held at the soon-to-open CoBiz Richmond.

The influx thus far caused substantial increase in tax revenue to the city, including a bump of $600,000 in just a one-year period, and the revenue is expected to continue to spike as larger facilities in development come online, according to Velasco. Councilmember Bates requested that city staff return to council with more specific figures on the amount of tax revenue received by the city in the last two years.

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