Potential cannabis businesses are going to have one less hurdle to face when they decide to open up shop in Eureka this time next year.
The Eureka City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to get rid of the request for proposal process that created a brief window during which potential cannabis retail businesses could apply for an invitation to begin the permitting process. There will still be about a year’s delay before the permitting process opens up to all potential businesses.
City Councilman Austin Allison said moving forward it was important “to treat cannabis like any other business.”
Rob Holmlund, the city’s community development director, said it will take a minimum of three months to change the ordinance that requires the request for proposals be sent out and another nine months to get those changes approved for the city’s coastal zones, which are regulated by the California Coastal Commission, the agency regulating coastal land use.
Despite the length of time it would take to change the ordinance, Holmlund said the current request for proposal process creates an unnecessary burden for potential cannabis retail businesses.
After the city sends out the request for proposals, interested businesses submit their proposals, which are then ranked by an impartial panel and approved by the city council. Once the city council invites those businesses to apply for their permits, the businesses must face another robust and expensive process that includes public hearings and working with several departments, including the police and fire departments.
The current process had other problems, too. Holmlund said some businesses that were ranked low and put in the back of the line for the permitting process were already operational while other businesses that were ranked higher, and consequently put in the front of the line, didn’t yet have a physical location.
Beyond that, it creates unnecessary, “artificial competition” and a “bottleneck effect for county staff who are flooded with proposals all at once” rather than letting businesses come in when they’re ready, Holmlund said.
The request for proposal process made sense when the city council originally looked at permitting cannabis retail locations because the council wanted to place a cap on the number of cannabis retail businesses, Holmlund said. Other areas that wanted a cap on cannabis retail locations went by a lottery or a first-come, first-served basis, but the city council thought the request for proposal process would be more competitive.
City Councilwoman Kim Bergel said the climate for businesses in the region has been stifling for a long time and it’s important for the council “to support business in a way that they can grow.”
While the ordinance requiring the request for proposals is changed, the city council unanimously approved the invitations to apply for all 19 of the proposed retail locations though city staff will work with those businesses in two phases.
Of the 19 applications, 14 proposals had a delivery component, 14 had an onsite topical and edible consumption component, and 13 had onsite smoking components. Holmlund said there was a wide range in terms of the types of businesses that would fit into the categories for onsite consumption, ranging from onsite smoking lounges to cannabis hotels and restaurants.
Six of the applicants already had retail licenses and were looking to expand their type of retail and five others had non-retail cannabis licenses and were seeking to expand into retail.
Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.