Mendocino County city considers allowing on-site consumption of cannabis
The Ukiah Planning Commission this week is scheduled to consider changes to city codes that would allow customers purchasing cannabis within the city limits to consume their purchases on-site.
The potential changes were pushed in large part by one local business owner, Kyle Greenhalgh, who told city officials last year that offering on-site consumption would be crucial to the viability of his operation, the cannabis microbusiness Heritage Mendocino located on Cunningham Street near Talmage Road.
"We put $1 million into this building, my wife and I, and we have a wonderful location that we would love to turn into a safe space for people to enjoy cannabis," said Greenhalgh, who envisions being able to offer "farmers-markets," events that would allow customers to sample many different offerings from local cannabis producers.
"Tourism could be a huge draw here, but there is no great place in the city now for visitors to enjoy cannabis legally — not in their car, not at a bar, not in their hotel room," he continued, explaining that he imagines creating a venue in the large outdoor space at his business that will offer people a space to gather, such as after the city's popular Concerts in the Park.
"We can offer food, music, and safe cannabis consumption," he said. "It has always been our goal and mission to bring value into our community by creating a beautiful space. We have rebuilt the city block around our business; installed sidewalks, planted street trees, and renovated an old building."
When asked how his business and others would make sure that people do not over-indulge in cannabis and then, say, operate a motor vehicle, Greenhalgh said it will be with the same tactics employed by bars to combat drunk driving.
"We have on-site security tracking people's consumption, and we will encourage people to have a designated driver, or to call a taxi, which we are happy to do," he said, adding that he hoped allowing more on-site consumption will not only help his business attract customers, but also help the city attract more visitors by eventually hosting cannabis festivals and conferences that currently bring big crowds to other parts of the region.
Greenhalgh said that while his business could offer outdoor consumption, other dispensaries within the city limits would be limited to indoor consumption due to their proximity to residential areas.
According to the staff report prepared for the Wednesday meeting of the Ukiah Planning Commission, city staff are presenting "a request to amend existing provisions of Ukiah City Code regulating cannabis related businesses within the city of Ukiah to allow for consumption of cannabis products in Cannabis Consumption Areas at permitted Cannabis Retailers and Cannabis Microbusinesses upon approval or modification of their associated Use Permit. If approved, Cannabis Consumption Areas shall adhere to the provisions of the City's Anti-Smoking Ordinance, undertake a review and renewal of operations after one year of activity, and maintain compliance with all relevant state statutes and regulations."
City staff also note that "in 2018, the county of Mendocino allowed for on-site consumption of cannabis at retailers/dispensaries, (and in 2021), updated these regulations to incorporate language to facilitate the permitting of cannabis farmers' markets, cannabis farm tours, cannabis lodging opportunities, and on-site consumption of cannabis at permitted cultivation sites. At that time, the county also added policies to streamline cannabis events."
City staff also note that state regulations require that the consumption take place in areas where: only those 21 and older are allowed to enter; where cannabis consumption is not visible from any public place or non-age-restricted area, and where sale or consumption of alcohol or tobacco is not allowed.
"Cannabis use is legal in California, but cities and counties can prohibit cannabis businesses at their discretion," city staff explain further, adding that: "Particularly, Ukiah City Code would continue to prohibit the consumption of cannabis on parcels including, but not limited to, city-owned parks and at city-sponsored events."
Staff also pointed out that "an increasing number of municipalities are now facilitating on-site consumption in various formats, including the cities of Santa Rosa, San Francisco, Palm Springs, Ojai and Lompoc."
City staff note that after Greenhalgh addressed the Ukiah City Council last fall to request that the city consider allowing on-sire consumption of cannabis, "the City Council requested that the Cannabis Ad-Hoc Committee review considerations provided during public expression in conjunction with staff, (who then) developed a recommendation for modification of Ukiah City Code that includes:
- Language that creates standards to operate a Cannabis Consumption Area, including that the Cannabis Retailer or Microbusiness adhere to the provisions of the City's Anti-Smoking Ordinance.
- Language that an indoor Cannabis Consumption Area be limited to allowing consumption of Edible Cannabis Product or Orally Consumed Concentrate only.
- Language that a Cannabis Consumption Area shall be located in well-ventilated, private area partitioned from access to all other areas of the premises, and be designed to prevent the flow of smoke to any other area of the premises or adjacent properties.
City staff also note that allowing cannabis businesses to offer on-site consumption "could address reasonable concerns that without designated areas, increased consumption will occur in public places or multi-unit housing where it is prohibited. This increase in consumption, especially in multi-unit housing, presents risks to vulnerable groups such as children, (and) also increases risks related to unnecessary policing and displacement of low-income and minority residents for cannabis use in their rental units or other public situations, which engenders potential criminal justice disparities."
The meeting of the Ukiah Planning Commission during which these code modifications will be discussed is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 6 p.m. The public is invited to attend both in person at the Ukiah Civic Center Council Chambers at 300 Seminary Ave., and virtually.