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Oceanside approves recreational marijuana businesses

Oceanside again loosened its marijuana regulations this week by removing the medical-only restriction from all cannabis-related businesses to now allow recreational uses.

Initially, only medical cannabis nurseries, cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and testing businesses were allowed by an ordinance the Oceanside City Council approved on April 18, 2018.

After that, the city added slots for two delivery-only retail businesses and later it removed the medical-only restriction from cultivation. The latest move, approved 4-1 Wednesday with Mayor Esther Sanchez opposed, removes the restriction from all the other allowed cannabis businesses.

Businesses already approved in Oceanside such as MedLeaf Delivery and Left Coast LLC, which makes vaping products, can submit an application to have their medical restriction removed.

About 40 people addressed the council on the issue at Wednesday’s meeting, and the speakers were roughly divided for and against what’s often called adult-use or recreational marijuana. Sanchez said she was persuaded by some of the young people who said the city’s legalization will make cannabis products more available to underage users.

“I am concerned about access to youth,” Sanchez said. “There is nothing here about educational programs … if in fact we want to do this, we should do it responsibly.”

In 2018, when the City Council approved the ordinance, it was emphatic that only medical cannabis would be allowed. But since then three of those council members have stepped down, and the consensus has changed.

First-term Councilman Christopher Rodriguez said Wednesday that “the only way we are going to combat the black market” and prohibit access to young people is to regulate medical and recreational marijuana. He and other supporters also have said the tax revenue produced by the industry will help pay for law enforcement, education and other basic city necessities.

Cannabis laws vary at the federal, state and local levels. While it’s illegal under federal law, it’s legal under state law, and individual cities and counties have taken their own stance on the substance.

Carlsbad and San Marcos have both passed ordinances to outlaw commercial marijuana activities.

San Diego County and six cities within the county allow limited commercial activities, Oceanside planner Stephanie Cervantes said. Five of those jurisdictions allow recreational uses, but the details vary by location and are evolving month by month.

Vista voters approved a ballot measure on Nov. 6, 2018, that allows up to 11 medical-only cannabis retailers to open in the city, and no other cannabis businesses. The Vista City Council then adopted ordinances Dec. 10, 2019, to allow cannabis deliveries and limited testing, manufacturing and distribution businesses in the city.

Encinitas voters approved a ballot measure in November 2020 that allows four retail stores selling medical and recreational cannabis to open in the city, along with commercial cultivation on agriculturally zoned land, and cannabis kitchens, distribution facilities and product manufacturers in some parts of the city.

Such decisions generally lead to city ordinances to establish tax rates and collection procedures, public education programs, and restrictions on things such as noise, odors and proximity to activities such as schools, playgrounds and churches.

Cannabis opponents often say medical marijuana is the first step onto a slippery slope, and they compare the business to “big tobacco.” They also say the increased revenue the city expects will be more than offset by increased crime and health problems, both physical and mental.

“The public has been duped by the marijuana industry,” said resident Peggy Walker, who spoke over a Zoom connection at Wednesday’s Oceanside council meeting. “It used medical to get its foot in the door and seeks widespread commercialization.”

Supporters include many people who passionately avow the medical and recreational benefits.

“In a free and open society, adults have the opportunity and rights to pursue their interests … even when it has a down side,” said resident Ken Dalpe via Zoom. “Cigarettes, alcohol and gambling all have their down side. The state can regulate but not prohibit them.”