Motion to Delay Retail Cannabis Sales in Fullerton Fails in Council

December 16, 2020 Updated: December 17, 2020

An “urgency ordinance” seeking to delay Fullerton’s recent approval of cannabis sales within city limits has failed.

The item received a majority 3–2 support at a meeting of the Fullerton City Council on Dec. 15, but urgency ordinances in the Southern California city require the support of 4 out of 5 councilmembers to pass.

City Manager Ken Domer said the motion—which would have pushed the Dec. 17 effective date to April 16, 2021—was a response to several concerns, including the lack of residential buffer zones and the “threat of litigation” from adjoining jurisdictions.

Domer also said a postponement would allow two new councilmembers, Fred Jung and Nick Dunlap, to weigh in.

“This would give the City Council that opportunity to not worry about this ordinance right now, and have staff … bring back different items for the new council to look at,” Domer said.

Though the proposed topic of discussion was whether the ordinance should be postponed, the vast majority of public comments objected to any form of retail cannabis sales.

“We are already tired of this game,” a resident named Cassandra said in Spanish through a translator. “It seems like councilmembers Ahmad [Zahra] and [Jesus] Silva don’t want to listen to us because they just think that we are dramatic moms.

“We do not want marijuana dispensaries. This is the fifth time that we have come, and we are tired.”

Zahra and Silva were among three councilmembers who supported retail cannabis sales at a Nov. 17 meeting. The third, Jan Flory, didn’t seek reelection.

Silva said at the time that the ordinance offered the best method for eliminating illegal shops in the city. He also highlighted the “secondary impact” of helping the local economy, which has been severely impacted by financial woes, including through cannabis tax revenue.

“For me, it’s about creating laws that would regulate something that [is not currently regulated] … opposed to what we have now, which is lawlessness [that creates] this shady little black market,” Zahra said.

The most severe rebuke at the Dec. 15 meeting came from a young boy named Francisco Gomez.

“I just come here to say that what Ahmad [Zahra] and Silva are doing [is] wrong,” said Gomez, who referred to himself as “an opposing child against marijuana.”

“You two guys better get out of the city council and just go to somewhere else or decide something else.”

After pausing for a brief smattering of applause, Gomez continued. “You’re just making a bad decision at what you’re doing. … Whatever you’re doing, it won’t go. You won’t make it.”

Mayor Bruce Whitaker remarked on the amount of latitude he granted the speakers, and asked them to “narrow the discussion” to whether they favored delaying the ordinance.

About five comments supported delaying the ordinance. All other constituents—six of whom addressed the council in Spanish—focused mainly on their irritation over retail cannabis coming to Fullerton.

Councilmember Dunlap said he thought the move to allow retail cannabis in Fullerton was premature.

“It seemed as though this was a ready, shoot, aim situation,” Dunlap said. “And I think anytime you enact public policy that way, you’re only opening yourself up to bigger problems, and in this case, the community.”

Meantime, Councilmember Zahra said the public didn’t seem to want dispensaries in the city.

“I think maybe we should have just brought back the ordinance itself,” Zahra said. “I think what they want is for you [Mayor Whitaker] to rescind it.”

Councilmember Jung agreed.

“There’s a great Miles Davis quote,” Jung said. “He said, ‘When you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that makes it good or bad.’ So I think it’s clear that this was a wrong note. And I would support this stay to make sure that when we do bring it back, it’s a good note.”

Silva said the issue of retail cannabis has been discussed since 2016. “So I don’t know how we can say we just rammed it through,” he said.

Silva and Zahra voted against postponing the ordinance, thereby ensuring it will go into effect on Dec. 17.

Before releasing applications for commercial cannabis permits, the city will make application materials, frequently asked questions, and application guidelines available.