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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 3:46 am | Fair 48º


Ron Fink: Cannabis Council in Lompoc

The Lompoc City Council is currently dominated by cannabis interests to the exclusion of other business interests and has proposed local regulations that conflict with several state laws governing the subject.

The first is a tax proposal; the council discussed placing a cannabis sales tax ordinance before voters twice; the first time a three-member majority consisting if Councilmen Jim Mosby, Dirk Starbuck and Victor Vega opposed the idea.

After considerable criticism from constituents, the three changed their minds, but not without providing direction that conflicts with the California taxation code.

The tax code reference on the state cannabis portal says: “You owe use tax based on your purchase price of the cannabis or cannabis products you provide to medicinal cannabis patients or primary caregivers free of charge.

“Or, if you are also a licensed manufacturer, you owe tax on the cost of the taxable items used to manufacture the cannabis products.”
The state says: Effective Jan. 1, 2018, “excise tax is imposed upon retail purchasers of all cannabis and cannabis products, including medicinal cannabis and distributors are required to calculate and collect the amount of excise tax due on the cannabis or cannabis products they supply to you.”

That seems to nullify a previous 2016 Proposition 64 exemption. The three propose to exempt medicinal-use dealers from the local tax.

Next was the issue of where cannabis could be sold. There are several provisions in state law that forbid the sale of cannabis within 600 feet of certain activities. One of them is “youth center;” there are several in the city and every other town in the state.

State law says: “Youth center means any public or private facility that is primarily used to host recreational or social activities for minors, including, but not limited to, private youth membership organizations or clubs, social service teenage club facilities, video arcades, or similar amusement park facilities.”

One such business is a dance studio.The city attorney queried all five studios operating in the city and asked “what percentage of its business was for minors and for adults.”

According to the staff report, “the lowest percentage of youth served was 80% and the other 4 were all above 90%.” So, clearly, these are primarily youth-oriented businesses.

But this provision became inconvenient for the three because the cannabis industry coveted locations in the city near dance studios; they had to do something to accommodate their new-found friends.

So, Mosby, using questionable judgment, after first voting in favor of extending the 600-foot protection, changed his vote to exclude dance studios as youth centers.

His reasoning: Dance studios don’t “exclusively” teach minors, somehow reinventing the meaning of “primarily used” and that limited hours of operation was a disqualifying factor.

The other two never wavered; they were opposed to protecting the youth of the community from the beginning of the discussion.

One dance studio operator in the Old Town area spent considerable energy and money fighting this unreasonable and seemingly illegal action, and eventually had to threaten a lawsuit if they didn’t extend the protection as stated in state law.

The council, at the advice of its attorney, eventually agreed to allow the exclusion, but only for her studio.

Even though she won her point, she will now move her business because she has “lost all faith in three of the current City Council members and believes because they voted to open up Old Town to the cannabis industry in the first place that they will try another tactic or possibly not honor our legal youth center status, as it appears they have their own agenda, and it certainly isn’t to protect the youth of Lompoc or to assist this community.”

Another deviation from state law is the consumption of cannabis on-premises; state law does not permit any person to “Smoke cannabis or cannabis products in a location where smoking tobacco is prohibited.”

The city has issued at least one license that would allow “smoking and vaping” inside the premises.

The medical practice, located in the same building, is now moving to another location to avoid a conflict between its patients and cannabis users.
So, two well-established businesses have felt obligated to move because the three-member council majority has “tweaked” state law; now many other smaller local businesses will be forced to take drastic action because of the arrogance of these three.

There is more. There are several unlicensed cannabis distributors in the city that openly advertise their products online. There appears to be no effort to curb these operations.

The three-member majority’s response: Freeze hiring to fill the nine officer vacancies the Police Department currently has.

In November we have a chance to change this dynamic; Mosby wants to be mayor — he should be rejected out of hand because of his lawless approach to governance. The other two should also be replaced for the same reason.

We have a right to expect our policy-makers to follow the laws of the land, not make up their own to accommodate one industry at the expense of several others.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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