Two months after approving the sale of recreational marijuana at local dispensaries, the Ojai City Council is debating whether to offer permits for cannabis manufacturing, as well.
In a 3-2 vote at its regular meeting Sept. 11, the council instructed the city staff to draft an amendment to Ojai’s existing cannabis ordinance that would allow the city to provide licenses for cannabis manufacturing plants. The decision followed a more than hourlong discussion and public hearing on the matter that prompted arguments both for and against allowing such facilities.
Representatives from two local cannabis dispensaries and several members of a local family interested in starting a cannabis manufacturing business spoke vehemently in favor of allowing the facilities in Ojai. They said the plants would bring good-paying jobs to the community, provide an opportunity to create locally sourced cannabis products and address a need for pesticide removal from concentrated cannabis.
The speakers pushed for the city to make available “Type 7” licenses, which would allow manufacturing facilities to use flammable solvents for cannabis extraction and infusion. Type 7 licenses are one of several types of cannabis manufacturing licenses the city could approve.
A city staff report recommended against allowing the Type 7 licenses because of concerns about public safety. But supporters said manufacturers need to use solvents in order to perform pesticide extraction and said facilities would be bound by strict safety rules.
“Volatile substances are necessary to clean the pesticides out of the products. What’s the point in making medicine for sick people and then poisoning them with pesticides at the same time?” said Bliss Page, one of the area residents seeking to start a manufacturing business. “Removal of pesticides and creating the cleanest and most pure products requires a Type 7 licensing. Why would the state approve volatile solvents if it’s too dangerous to use?“
But Ojai resident Bill Miley said he thought the council shouldn’t rush to further expand its cannabis regulations. He said there’s still too little known about the impact of the council’s approval of recreational marijuana sales in July.
Council member Randy Haney echoed those sentiments. He said he was also concerned that the push to legalize manufacturing was being driven by the Page family.
“I have a sense that we’re here tonight talking about a specific ordinance for a specific person. I think that concerns me,” he said. “The second thing that concerns me is the speed at which we’re moving. … My personal take is we haven’t had enough time to actually really see the impacts of the cannabis facilities that we have.”
Haney and Mayor Johnny Johnston voted against drafting an ordinance. Johnston said he first wanted to see some independent analyses and information about cannabis manufacturing and address concerns about safety with fire and building officials.
“It seems like it’s a fairly momentous decision with quite a bit of workload for staff to do their proper due diligence,” he said. “Half a dozen jobs are nice, and I like those, but that doesn’t weigh heavily enough to be deciding to draft an ordinance exclusively for that. It sounds like we’ve sort of got either a mini or a moderate-sized refinery process that we’re discussing.”
Council members Bill Weirick, Suza Francina and Paul Blatz voted in favor of drafting the ordinance. Blatz said the ordinance would serve as a framework for future debate on the issue, and Francina said it could still be refined and changed once it comes before council.