By DAVID DOWNEY | email@example.com | The Press-Enterprise
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:
Riverside County’s third-largest city may open the door to marijuana enterprises, while capping dispensaries at 17.
While that may seem an odd, arbitrary figure, it is based on round-number math: one marijuana storefront for every 10,000 residents in Corona, whose population is approaching 170,000.
Corona officials are weighing allowing manufacturing plants, distribution facilities, testing laboratories and retail delivery businesses, too, without caps — but with the caveat that they, like stores, could locate only in manufacturing zones.
Those zones are generally along the north side of the 91 Freeway in west Corona; south of the 91 on both sides of the 15 Freeway, west of the 15 Freeway near Magnolia Avenue, and southeast of Magnolia east of the 15.
Councilman Jason Scott, during a recent, more-than-two-hour meeting on the proposal, emphasized residents would not see cannabis stores in shopping areas.
“They won’t be at the Stater Bros., the Vons or the Albertsons locations,” Scott said.
Cultivation plants wouldn’t be allowed.
Corona’s move to allow most types of marijuana enterprises and establish ground rules for them comes more than two years after recreational pot use became legal Jan. 1, 2018.
Nineteen people commented on the topic during a Wednesday, Feb. 19, Corona City Council workshop. The speakers were a mix of residents, school officials and cannabis operators. Some suggested the preliminary rules were too restrictive; others warned the policy would transform the city and put marijuana within easy reach of youths.
“Are the consequences really worth it?” asked Sarah Ibbetson, a lifelong Corona resident and mother of four children.
The proposal is far from being put into effect.
No decision was made. Following the workshop, a council committee comprised of Scott and Mayor Jim Steiner intends to review the plan and refine it. It could be months before the council votes on a plan.
Still, the council signaled its intention to let some cannabis businesses set up shop.
“It’s going to be among us no matter what,” Steiner said.
He noted that Riverside County recently opened the door to marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas, some of which border Corona. And Steiner said delivery operators already are selling to Corona customers.
“Literally, guys, I could get cannabis delivered right now to these chambers quicker than I could get a pizza,” he said. “And it would be legal.”
Even so, City Councilman Wes Speake said he disliked the proposed cap.
“I just think that 17 is a really high number,” he said.
Sam Buenrostro, deputy superintendent for the Corona-Norco Unified School District, said he worried that storefronts’ product would find its way into the hands of Corona’s “most precious commodity … our children.”
Bill Kaufman, a Rancho Cucamonga resident, who said he opened medicinal dispensaries in the Los Angeles area several years ago before selling them and plans to open a store in Corona, dismissed that concern.
“Children can’t even get close,” Kaufman said. “You’re going to have a guard out front. You’re going to have an opaque window.”
“I believe that the jeopardy to the children is way overblown,” he said.
Elizabeth Ines, who lives in the Boyle Heights area of east Los Angeles, said she wants to open a delivery business in Corona. But she said the regulations are too restrictive and could exclude small business people such as herself.
“You really are not thinking of the little person, you are thinking of the bigger person,” she said. “I’m a minority and I’m a woman. So, as it is, I already have a lot of things against me.”
Buenrostro, the school official, suggested the rules weren’t strong enough — such as the one that would require that stores be no closer than 1,000 feet from schools.
“That’s just three football fields,” he said.
City Attorney Dean Derleth said the state mandates that cannabis businesses stay 600 feet away from schools, youth centers and day centers. He said Corona is looking to add parks and residential areas to that list.
Derleth said the city also is proposing to increase the minimum distance to 1,000 feet for stores, which would have to stay 1,000 feet away from each other, too.
Other rules would prohibit cannabis use on site, strictly control odor and require posting an armed security guard.
As for the 17 store permits, those would be awarded by a panel of independent professionals — including at least one planner, a public safety expert and a Corona business-community representative — who would rank applications. The panel’s identity would be kept secret during the review, Derleth said, then revealed later.
Councilwoman Jacque Casillas said it will be crucial to come up with a fair procedure for selecting panelists “so that we all trust that process.”
Contact Margolin & Lawrence for more information regarding this story.