Cannabis delivery one stop closer to Visalia

City of Visalia Administration building from across E. Oak Ave.(Kenny Goodman)

Medicinal cannabis delivery is soon come to Visalia now that first reading of a new city ordinance has been approved by Visalia City Council at their latest meeting

VISALIA – Despite efforts to keep marijuana distribution out of the city, Visalia will soon be required to allow the sale and delivery of medicinal cannabis within its jurisdiction, which city council took a step closer to after approving the first reading of an ordinance that will amend their zoning laws.

During their meeting on Nov. 6, Visalia City Council reviewed the draft of an ordinance they requested city staff write up during a work session in July, which aims to respond and adhere to Senate Bill 1186, otherwise known as the “Medicinal Cannabis Patients’ Right of Access Act.”

Once it’s put into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, the bill will prohibit local jurisdictions, such as the City of Visalia from “adopting or enforcing any regulation that prohibits the retail sale by delivery…of medicinal cannabis to (those who need it) or their primary caregivers by medicinal cannabis businesses,” as stated in the bill itself.

While Visalia currently prohibits the operation of any cannabis businesses within their boundaries, come next year, the city will no longer be able to limit the number of authorized medicinal cannabis businesses, or their operating/delivery hours.

“This sounds a little peculiar that its’ a retail product, yet you can order 24 hours a day and have it delivered 24 hours a day,” said Vice Mayor Brett Taylor. “If they’re making deliveries all night long, there’s nothing we can do about it?”

Taylor asked this question to Paul Bernal, the city’s director of community development, who responded that that as “alluded to in the statute of law, no.”

The city however, will be able to put zoning restrictions in place, such as containing the cannabis facilities in the city’s industrial park, as suggested by staff, as well as implementing a buffer to keep the public out and protect nearby businesses.

“To meet the intent of the law, we are recommending that a 500 foot buffer be applied here,” said Bernal. “If we went above 500 (feet), we start to take out a lot of the light industrial pieces (due to the presence) of some…sensitive land uses such as daycares.”

The necessity of limiting the buffer was reinforced by City Attorney Kenneth Richardson, who noted that, should the city be restrictive of where the cannabis facilities can go, they may “run out locations before (they) run out of applicants.” Should this happen, the city would be faced with a choice of violating state laws or further amending their zoning laws.

As outlined by the bill, the city will still have the power to enforce specific security/safety requirements, such as requiring the facilities to construct seven foot fences to ensure no one “comes in and out of facilities except for employees and drivers,” who will have to undergo strict training and through background checks.

While the council asked many clarifying questions during their meeting and seemed apprehensive about the inevitable implementation of these facilities, they unanimously voted to have the current draft of the ordinance move along development.

Before it can be officially implemented, Ordinance No. 2023-13 for Zoning Text Amendment No. 2023-02, will have to go through an additional public hearing before the council can make their final vote. While it didn’t receive any contention during the recent Nov. 6 meeting, one resident spoke out, not against the ordinance, but the council’s handling of it.

“There’s a strong bias in your tone,” the resident noted during the public comment period. “I came from a bigger city, so I’ve seen commercial cannabis use, and I’ve seen it develop in my city, when it went from medicinal only strictly regulated. You’re gonna get to the point where you’re going to have commercial storefronts, and it’s not going to destroy your city – I promise you.”

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