So where is Arroyo Grande on medical marijuana?

June 18, 2018

Opinion by Mayor Jim Hill

Medical marijuana – cannabis – has been legal under California law since Proposition 215 was passed by voters in 1996. Well over a year ago, facing a mandated state deadline and anticipating new state regulations which would preempt local control, the Arroyo Grande City Council passed an ordinance authorizing deliveries only of medical cannabis within the city.

Due to the rigorous protocol the city established to protect residents and regulate delivery services, only one company, Elite Care, has qualified and received a city permit since the ordinance was enacted.

When the promised state regulations were finally published, they included new terms such as “retail medicinal non-storefront” which could be confused to mean “delivery only” but in fact meant a mandatory warehouse or “premises” from which deliveries would originate.

Although the original intent of council was that deliveries would originate outside the city, early last December, city staff informed the state bureau that Elite Care’s “retail medicinal non-storefront” business in the city was consistent with the city-issued permit and the state bureau subsequently issued Elite Care a temporary state license. Elite Care proceeded to lease a potential “premises” location in the city.

Later that month, city staff told the state bureau that medicinal retail non-storefront was not authorized by the city permit. Last month, staff sent the state a letter recommending Elite Care’s state license be revoked.

Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill

Early this month, on the city recommendation, the state revoked the license. Since Elite Care has applied for but not yet received a “premises” permit elsewhere, this meant that Elite Care could not legally deliver within the city.

At last Tuesday’s meeting, the council considered three choices: 1) do nothing, which would have the effect of prohibiting all local delivery since no entity other than Elite Care had qualified for the required city permit and Elite Care does not currently have a required “premises” from which to deliver. This option also appears to violate a new state requirement which prohibits local regulation of deliveries originating elsewhere; 2) repeal the existing ordinance and fall back on the state regulation, which would have the effect of prohibiting all deliveries until the lengthy city ordinance repeal process was complete, then allowing any state licensee having a premises elsewhere to deliver into the city without city oversight; or 3) authorize one or more “retail non-storefront” locations within the city, which would allow Elite Care and any other city permit holder to conduct deliveries only from within the city. This option would have the added benefit of directing resulting sales taxes to the city, instead of to the outside “premises” locations.

The staff report characterized the evolving state regulations dealing with medicinal and more recently approved “recreational” cannabis and their associated communications as “chaotic” and “uncoordinated” which begs the question why the city should abandon its established process to state control. All public testimony was in favor of medicinal deliveries and strongly supported Elite Care. All but one comment supported a local “premises” for Elite Care.

Council discussion raised the specter of break-ins if there was a local premises and concern about additional work for city staff to modify the ordinance. Ultimately, the council voted 3-2 to repeal the existing city ordinance.

Ironically, since Elite Care does not yet have a “premises”, they alone would be prohibited from delivering medical products locally, even though they are the only entity to have qualified for and been granted a city delivery permit. I supported allowing a local “premises” for Elite Care (and up to two other services qualified under the city ordinance protocol), and thus voted against the measure. I also note repealing the ordinance still requires more staff work and voids the large volume of work already performed.

My concerns remain that for some time there will be no legal deliveries within the city, denying our patients access to safe, tested, legal medicines.

Meanwhile, black market operators continue unfettered and probably couldn’t be distinguished from legal deliveries originating elsewhere absent the city ordinance.

I believe that if we want to allow deliveries to patients here, we need to support the required aspects including authorizing the required “premises.” I believe that break-ins at “premises” are very unlikely due to the extreme security measures required and the fact that the products, many of which are alternatives to highly addictive opiates, are not suitable for “recreational” use.

Meanwhile, Arroyo Grande shares in the appalling national crisis of opiate abuse and we’ve had several break-ins at our local pharmacies that stock opiate substances where no such security is required. Revenue from safe, city-authorized cannabis delivery services could fund additional police efforts to stop black market operators and fight abuse of opiates.

It seems to me the council vote was not just a losing battle, it shows we’re fighting the wrong war.

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Why require a ‘premises’? I fail to understand what difference a premises makes at all. This is a compact area of ‘five cities’, so to speak. Farm to patient is entirely possible.

Concern for ‘breakins/thefts’ are eliminated with grower or out of area supplier so why not permit deliveries.

It appears to me that staff and council don’t know much about drugs, addiction, cannabis or what their residents/voters prefer to see happen here.

Mr Hill does a fine job of documenting history but falls flat in the final analysis.

To suggest Elite Care would be the lone operator excluded from the city is incorrect. The counsels direction seemed to open access to the city for all state licensed delivery services. Elite Cares decision or apparent inability to work with any local jurisdiction is a function of their management.

The opinion inaccurately suggests that the council had alternative recourse which would allow for legal delivery in the city in a shorter amount of time. To change the ordinance to allow an in city storage facility would certainly take as long, and likely longer than the proposed change to allow any state licensed operator to deliver. To amend the ordinance to allow a premises would take far more staff time than the chosen path. The police chief also noted the extensive cost related to dealing with the proposed in city location.

The mayor also fails to acknowledge the potential concerns of the neighbors of the unvetted proposed location. This is one area that differentiated Mayor Hill and Councilman Ray in their unlikely alliance in voting together. Ray indicated she had engaged the neighbors and understood there was a larger picture that the citizens needed to weigh in on, beyond single mined support of Elite Care.

While the mayors concern for the opiate “crisis” is admirable, it has no place in this discussion.

Ultimately it was councilman Ray who got it right, they need to hear from the citizens and follow their wishes.

I don’t understand Mayor Hill’s comments any more than I understood the marathon City Counsel marijuana discussion. All they have done is give Elite Care a ton of free advertising. Arroyo Grande thinks it possesses some special quality that make the “evil” marijuana business beneath it. Arroyo Grande is a nice place to live but nothing special. I suggest they find a City of similar size and adopt that Cities ordinance and get on to City business. Remember, only a few years back AG wouldn’t allow any delivery services. They have no respect for the 56% of CA voters who voted for recreational marijuana.


I agree with Julie!

Arroyo Grande has three main problems: Barbara Harmon, Caren Ray & Kristen Barneich.

I support the level-headed leadership of Mayor Jim Hill, and all of this baloney regarding allowing state-mandated marijuana deliveries ought to stop.

Support good government.

Sad that other’s posts in opposition get deleted.

One of the posters who certainly is a regular writer and should not be provided the same protection as the typical commenter. She had cost Arroyo Grande and many other local communities a fortune, certainly enough to cover some of the staff who are being fired.

It’s a sad we support this activity while attacking city’s poor management.

So no opinion on the article at hand, just a personal attack?

“other’s posts” Was a personal attack with little to do with the article.

Don’t be that person.

Barneich has found her family’s gravy train at the public sector trough.

Here’s hoping Harmon is one and done.

I watched the meeting where this all went down and found some of the arguments made by council members to be so hypocritical. As an example, both Barbara Harmon and Kristen Barneich whined that sending the ordinance back to staff would be expensive. They both mentioned the city’s $900,000 budget deficit and layoffs of as many as eleven staff members as reasons why they didn’t want staff to spend any more time on this issue. Both of these women are huge supporters of Five Cities Fire Authority and don’t appear to see the direct correlation to layoffs in police, recreation and administration staff to the increase to fire. Additionally, both these women are huge drains on the city budget themselves. All council members are entitled to salary (also known as stipend), benefits and retirement.

Here’s how that breaks down as of close of 2017:

Kristen Barneich: $4,860 salary + 18,676.27 for health benefits + $144.48 for retirement benefits

Barbara Harmon: $4,860 salary + $7,908.16 for health benefits + $144.48 for retirement benefits

Tim Brown: $4,860 salary + $1,415.04 for health benefits + $144.48 for retirement benefits

Caren Ray: $4,860 salary + $1,415.04 for health benefits + $144.48 for retirement benefits

Jim Hill: $4,860 salary + $1,090.20 for health benefits + $144.48 for retirement benefits

Currently, Arroyo Grande appears to have the lowest stipends for their council members in the county. But, not all cities offer benefits or retirement.

The hypocrisy here is the council member whose husband is firefighter with excellent benefits and pay in a city to the south takes benefits from Arroyo Grande so he can take cash payouts instead of the benefits offered by his public employer. Juxtaposed to the Mayor who has a job in the private sector and foots his own medical and retirement – he doesn’t even charge the city for working meals like Tony did for $40.00 steak dinners.

The city should spend some time on the cannabis issues sooner as opposed to later. They need to get their hands on some tax revenues so they can afford to keep paying Barneich and Harmon.