Medicinal cannabis rolls into Exeter

Exeter planning commission approves changes to ordinance allowing for a medicinal cannabis clinic to open for business, but still preventing recreational cannabis from entering city boundaries

EXETER – After several years Exeter is finally taking the last steps to allow a medicinal cannabis business to set up shop in downtown. 

The Exeter Planning Commission made a few changes to Exeter’s ordinances, allowing for the medicinal clinic BioLife to enter into the community. At the Oct. 20 meeting, the commission approved two specific ordinance changes ultimately  allowing for the medicinal cannabis shop to enter the city. The final approval of the new ordinances is up to city council and will be voted on before the end of the year. However, this change does not mean the city will be allowing recreational cannabis retail shops.

“The council approved a modification of the ordinance and what it did was set up for this medicinal clinic to be able to occur,” Adam Ennis, Exeter city manager said. “The council wanted to box it in very tightly because we weren’t interested in expanding out to other cannabis uses at this point, and so the ordinance was written pretty strictly about medicinal clinics.”

The commission approved a text amendment to Exeter’s zoning ordinance to add “M (medicinal) –type 12 microbusiness, medical cannabis treatment center” to the permitted use list of the central commercial district in Exeter.  They also approved the removal of “marijuana dispensaries” from the list of prohibited uses and replaced it with “marijuana/cannabis uses not expressly authorized and regulated by the city of Exeter code of ordinances.”

Before the city began the process to make the changes allowing for a medicinal cannabis location, they had a strict no-cannabis policy. BioLife is a clinic that serves adults and children with terminal and severe illnesses. They use highly controlled cannabis, amongst other things, to treat patients. There are not many facilities like BioLife up and down the state of California. Currently the only one is in Northern California, so by opening one in the Central Valley, it could provide a huge help to patients in the southern region. 

BioLife has done their part to ease the process, and a great deal of that time was spent dealing with the state of California. In the cannabis industry, there are several types of business licenses that must be acquired by each business. The licenses range from being specific to cultivators, retailers, laboratories that test the cannabis or a combination and vary in title. BioLife acquired a microbusiness, or a “Type 12” license which means they have a combination of cultivation, manufacturing, distribution or retail within their establishment. Only three of the four criteria are required to receive a microbusiness license.

The change to the ordinance in Exeter only allows for a Type 12 cannabis business, medical cannabis treatment center, which is specific to BioLife. Ennis said they are still being “really restrictive” as to what they will allow. The change to the ordinance also puts a limitation of one clinic per 20,000 people according to Ennis. And according to the U.S. census in 2021, the population in Exeter is half of that.  

After receiving approval from the planning commission, the next move is to gain approval from the city council. Once the council approves it, it will allow Bio Life to begin setting up shop in Exeter, by getting a permit for their clinic to open. BioLife began this process with the city in earnest in 2019. 

On a separate front, this topic got the ball rolling to put a cannabis tax on the ballot this year, Measure B. Though the medicinal cannabis shop will not be taxed like recreational shops would be, the city decided to put it on the ballot regardless. By putting measure B on the ballot the city has two hopeful outcomes. First, if it is passed the city will then have a tax in place, if a recreational dispensary ever opens in Exeter. On the other hand the city will see how residents feel about opening up the city to cannabis. 

However, if measure B is passed, that does not mean a retail cannabis shop will be opening in town. It only makes it easier for the city in the future. As city staff has moved words around in the current ordinances and zoning laws to allow for BioLife, they would still have to do the same thing if a recreational joint ever wanted to set up shop. 

“That item on the ballot does not open the door to permitting any more additional cannabis related business,” Ennis said. “It only creates the tax ordinance that if you did go through a process to allow a business, that’s how it would be taxed.”

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