Fullerton Council Postpones Retail Cannabis Discussion

January 20, 2021 Updated: January 21, 2021

Retail cannabis is coming to Fullerton, California, but the timeline has become increasingly unclear.

Certain details about the ordinance, which officially went into effect on Dec. 17, were scheduled for discussion at the Jan. 19 Fullerton City Council meeting. However, the council narrowly voted to reschedule the conversation for Feb. 16.

Mayor Pro Tem Nick Dunlap raised the issue of postponing the item so city officials could have “a more robust discussion” regarding fees, applications, and amendments to the approved ordinance.

“This is something that the community has expressed a lot of concern with,” Dunlap said at the meeting. “They’re going to want to come in and … make comments. And I think we have the time to wait and do this the right way.”

Councilmember Ahmad Zahra, who voted against postponing the discussion, said he was “a little hesitant on moving something that everybody came prepared to speak on.”

“I don’t see why we cannot address this today, or at least have a brief discussion,” said Zahra.

But Mayor Bruce Whitaker and Councilmember Fred Jung joined Dunlap to support the delay.

“Tonight, I just see where we’re unprepared to have a constructive dialogue on this,” Whitaker said.

The ordinance to allow the sale of cannabis in the city was adopted on Nov. 17—with support at the time from Zahra, then-Mayor Pro Tem Jan Flory, and Councilmember Jesus Silva—despite adamant disapproval from then-Councilman Whitaker and former Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald.

But since the Nov. 3 election, the composition of the Fullerton City Council has changed, with a majority now against support for the ordinance as written—due mainly to outcry from residents.

Was the Policy Rushed? 

The decision to postpone the discussion was prompted by pushback from both Fullerton City Council members and residents.

“It’s like there’s this policy that we’re just kind of rushing to throw down, and I just don’t think that’s the way to enact a policy that’s going to affect so many in the community,” Dunlap said on Jan. 19.

He said he’s received a number of phone calls and emails, both for and against the ordinance.

“People really want … their voices heard,” Dunlap said, adding he thinks it’s important to not “cut them off, shut them out, or try to enact policies behind closed doors, so to speak.”

However, Silva maintained that the council didn’t rush anything. He said the issue has been debated since 2016.

“We’ve got a new council … and they should be caught up to speed, but in my eyes, there was nothing rushed through. It’s been going on for four years now.”

Flory—no longer on the council—appeared via Zoom during the public comments portion of the meeting.

“I’m a little bit confused,” she said. “It feels like this is a motion for consideration of an ordinance that has already been through the first and second reading and is in effect.”

She concurred with Silva, pointing out that the council had held numerous community meetings and “three hotly contested hearings on the matter.”

“It seems to me that this was presented as an amendment to the ordinance to discuss buffer distances, and now it’s turned into something quite different,” she said.

Citizens Weigh In

Several residents called in to the Jan. 19 meeting with public comments.

Lucia, a Fullerton resident for 65 years, supported a continuance. “Many, many voices of the community in the south part of Fullerton want to be heard,” she said.

Christy Sims, a 40-year resident, also supported postponing the discussion—as long as rescinding the ordinance remained a possibility. “The overwhelming number of Fullerton residents are against cannabis businesses in Fullerton,” Sims said.

Another citizen, Connor J., expressed frustration with the postponement.

“Every week you delay this issue, you are allowing the $10 billion illegal cannabis market to continue and endanger the children of the city you’re supposed to represent. That is a criminal negligence—negligence of your duty,” he said.

Katie V., a mother of three who said she’s used medical cannabis for the past 15 years to treat chronic pain, reprimanded the council for delaying the process.

“You guys are trying to take [away] an ordinance that went through all the various steps and multiple public comments to get to the point that we’re at,” she said.

City Manager Ken Domer called attention to an effort by a group of citizens to establish their own version of a cannabis ordinance. He said the city received a signed Notice of Intent on Jan. 15 that “largely mirrors the ordinance that was adopted, but has some changes to it.”

“If it’s voter-approved, it would supersede what the council would adopt,” he added.

Discussion Postponed

Before the item was put to a vote, Jung said that delaying the conversation would allow the council “to educate ourselves more.”

“The reason why we want to continue this matter for a meeting itself is to be able to take … the time to hear all the voices in the community—not just the folks that are for it, but those who are against it as well,” Jung said.

Zahra asked if the motion was to bring back the item for discussion, or to bring back the ordinance so it could potentially be rescinded altogether.

City Attorney Richard Jones said the motion was for both. He characterized the council’s dialogue as a “study session” to prepare an agenda for future discussion and direction.

Whitaker noted that a great deal of time could have been saved if they had just postponed the discussion for another day.

“We’ll have to go through it all again,” he said.