Colusa City Council: After passing a trio of ordinances, council  finalizes changes to zoning, municipal codes, opening door for commercial cannabis; hands out development agreements for two cannabis businesses

Despite opposition voiced by a handful of the Colusa residents who formed an over-capacity crowd at Colusa City Hall on June 6, the Colusa City Council moved forward with a trio of ordinances that will pave the way for commercial cannabis operations in  Colusa.

Up for a second reading and final approval by the council were three ordinances that were recommended for approval by the city planning commission last month. The council approved a first reading of the ordinances at their last meeting on May 16.

After a motion by councilman Tom Reische was seconded by Mayor Kirk Kelleher, all five councilmen voted in favor of the ordinance (No. 519) that will change the city’s zoning and municipal codes to allow for Cannabis Manufacturing Uses and establish regulatory permits for cannabis businesses.

The second item up for a public hearing was an ordinance to approve a development agreement with Cultivation Technologies, Inc., relating to the company’s development of an interim cannabis manufacturing facility at Colusa Industrial Properties. Kelleher made the motion to pass the ordinance approving the development agreement with CTI, which was seconded by Reische.

The final public hearing was for an ordinance to approve a development agreement with GreenLeaf Processors, which plans to operate a cannabis oil extraction facility in an already-built warehouse that abuts the levee on the north end of Fifth Street. The council passed the ordinance in a 3-2 vote. Councilmen Dave Womble and Dave Markss voted against adopting the ordinance to approve the development agreement.

“For the audience here, the reasoning behind the no-vote on that is the location, because of where it’s situated at, on the levee like that,” Womble explained after roll call. “I think it’s detrimental to the parkway, the revitalization of that particular parking area and picnic area or whatever.”

Odor, banking, federal Drug Scheduling issues rehashed

Many of the concerns raised by the public regarding the ordinance had been brought up in past meetings. Specifically, residents rehashed concerns about potential nuisance odors, banking issues, and the federal legality of cannabis.

Former Colusa councilman John Rogers asked Rob Bernheimer, legal counsel for Cultivation Technologies Inc., how odors would be controlled at the company’s temporary facility, proposed to go in at the Colusa Industrial Park.

The temporary facilities – which will consist of between 10,000 and 12,000 sq. ft. of field trailers and shipping containers located on a two-acre parcel at CIP – will be used until the company’s permanent campus is constructed nearby. At the city council’s May 16 meeting, City Planner Bryan Stice said that CTI would likely be in the temporary facility for about 12 months.

At last week’s city council meeting, Bernheimer explained that CTI’s proposed temporary facilities would have the same odor control capabilities as the permanent facility.

“At the temporary facility here, there will be full filtration. The containers themselves will be sealed, so that they are gas-tight,” Berheimer said. “We’ll have that filtration, and won’t have any odors on the facility… We know we have to control odor, and that’s what we’re going to do. If there’s any odors getting out, we’re going to get shut down. We don’t want to get shut down, and we don’t want to ruin our opportunity to move onto the larger facility that we’re doing.”

Rogers also asked how the City of Colusa planned to receive payments from the two companies that were there seeking approval for development agreements.

“Is the city going to receive it in cash, or receive it in a bank check that’s federally guaranteed? Because they’re producing a product that is not federally legal,” Rogers said.

Berheimer said that while the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network had issued guidelines that would allow banks to accept money from cannabis businesses, large financial institutions had indeed shied away from doing so.

“A lot of banks, particularly larger banks, don’t want to do that, because it puts the onus on the bank to basically guarantee that all of the transactions being handled by that cannabis company are compliant with state law,” Bernheimer said.

Even so, some smaller banks have been willing to take on that burden. Bernheimer said that CTI was currently developing relationships with local banks, and that CTI planned to deliver payment to the city by check.

“That’s our plan. Anybody who’s been in this business knows that there are some challenges with banking, and maybe an unexpected future coming from that. But we have a relationship with a bank, and that’s our plan now,” Bernheimer said.

“Federal Law is not black and white”

Bernheimer attempted to provide some clarity on the issue of the federal legality of Medical Marijuana.

The long and the short of it? It’s not all that clear.

Marijuana remains a Schedule I Drug under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act – the same classification that heroin, LSD, and ecstasy fall under, among others. Even with that classification, Berheimer pointed to the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prohibits the federal government from spending any money on prosecuting companies that are follow state law when it comes to medical cannabis.

The amendment was first signed into law by President Barack Obama, as part of the federal government’s final spending bill in 2013. On May 5, President Donald Trump signed into law the most recent spending bill, which included a new version of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment.

“You have a law that absolutely prohibits prosecution for companies like CTI that are doing business here,” Bernheimer said. “That amendment is on the table for the next budgetary cycle as well. Unfortunately, it’s getting renewed budget after budget, and they are working on a larger fix for that, but the idea that this is absolutely federally prohibited is not an accurate statement.”

The amendment does not extend those protections to recreational cannabis. For that reason, CTI has shifted its focus to the medical side of things, Bernheimer said.

“In the long run, we would like do both. But as a company, we don’t feel comfortable going into the recreational side until there is some more clarity,” Bernheimer said.

That the sitting president renewed the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment in the latest spending bill may not come as a surprise to some: During his campaign, Trump expressed support for medical marijuana and stated on at least three occasions that he felt the legalization of marijuana – both medical and recreational – was a states’ rights issue.

Still, uncertainty reigns at the federal level: Trump’s pick for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is a staunch opponent of marijuana – medical or otherwise.

Since last week’s city council meeting, it was revealed by numerous national publications that the federal protections for state-compliant medical cannabis operations under the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment had been challenged by Sessions last month. In a May letter made public on Monday, first obtained by activist Tom Angell for MassRoots, Sessions personally appealed to Congress to allow him to prosecute medical marijuana businesses for violating the Controlled Substances Act.

Meanwhile, California is pushing back: less than two weeks ago, a bill passed the State Assembly that would prohibit state and local police from working with federal agents who are going after marijuana businesses operating within the state’s laws. The bill passed the Assembly by a 41-33 vote that fell largely along party lines.

Council Gets presentation from another Cannabis Business

Prior to the night’s public hearings, the Colusa City Council heard a presentation from Triple Crown Growers regarding a potential development on Colusa’s east side, in the Riverbend Estates subdivision. The company is proposing to build the state’s largest cannabis manufacturing facility at nearly 1 million sq. ft. – of which nearly 820,000 sq. ft. will be used for cannabis cultivation.

In addition to the cannabis manufacturing facility, the developer is also proposing to build Triple Crown Senior Estates – an 80-unit, active adult living community – right next door.

Check back in next week’s edition of the Pioneer Review to learn more about the proposed project, and what Colusa residents members have to say about it.

SHARE
avatar

Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net