Crafting Local Cannabis Policy in California: A Look into the City of Novato

novato california marijuana cannabis
Local policy may be influenced by nearby metropolitan choices.

Do you live in a jurisdiction where commercial cannabis activities are prohibited? Under the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MAUCRSA”), local jurisdictions in California are free to decide whether they will regulate or prohibit commercial cannabis activities. As we have covered before, the City of Novato, located in the northern part of Marin County, currently falls in the prohibition camp.

Novato passed a moratorium banning all commercial cannabis activities except for two pre-existing laboratories. There is also a carve-out in the moratorium for medical cannabis deliveries from operators licensed outside of Novato. The City’s moratorium is scheduled to expire in November, leaving the City with two options: Either continue the prohibition, or decide to regulate and license the industry.

Last week I attended two meetings sponsored by the City and HdL Companies (a company that partners with local agencies to develop cannabis policies) that discussed the future of cannabis licensing in Novato. With reports that only one in three California cities authorize any type of cannabis businesses, it’s important for cannabis supporters to actively engage with local regulators when cannabis policies are on the legislative agenda. The cannabis meetings in Novato presented an inside look in how a small a city, in close proximity to metropolises with cannabis friendly policies (Novato is less than thirty minutes from San Francisco and Oakland if the traffic Gods are shining upon you), approaches the future of cannabis activities in their town. Here is some insight from the meetings:

  • There were a number of dispensary operators from nearby jurisdictions, all with different viewpoints on what Novato’s cannabis ordinance should look like, but there was unanimous consent on one particular point: A medical-only storefront retailer will not thrive with adult-use jurisdictions nearby (San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, and Vallejo just to name a few). Medical-only dispensaries will lose tourists and curious customers willing to try cannabis for the first time to their adult-use competitors.
  • The double-edged sword of commercial property values. If your town has a large number of decrepit and vacant buildings, then commercial cannabis businesses can be instrumental in revitalizing those neighborhoods. On the other hand, since landlords can extract a significant amount more in rent from cannabis businesses, long-time local businesses may see their rents increase or their leases not renewed. This problem is exacerbated if a city enacts restrictive zoning regulations, thereby further limiting where a cannabis business can operate.
  • There was a lot of support for an ordinance that includes a social equity component. Should a cannabis ordinance give priority to owners from disadvantaged groups? Should there be a requirement that a certain percentage of employees be local residents? For further context on social equity programs, we covered what Los Angeles is doing here, and what San Francisco and Oakland are doing, here.
  • Educating and informing the public is paramount to turning a prohibitionist jurisdiction green. Misinformation and scare tactics run rampant at many public hearings (see our coverage on Sonoma County, here), so cannabis supporters must be prepared to correct the record.

Right now, it’s too early in the process to tell which way Novato will go with its cannabis policy. The City is holding two more public meetings in August: One on August 8th and the other on August 16th (both will be from 6pm-8pm at City Hall). If Novato residents want to see the City lift its cannabis prohibition, they will need to study up and prepare their talking points: The first two meetings were cannabis friendly but trust me, there will be opposition. But most importantly, cannabis supporters must continue to show up and vocalize their support! Mark your August calendar, Novato.

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Author: Habib Bentaleb