After countless hours of meetings and workshops on cannabis, South Lake Tahoe City Council's work on an ordinance might all have been for nothing — that is, if a certain initiative makes it onto the ballot and passes this November.
On Wednesday, Tahoe Wellness Cooperative's Executive Director Cody Bass submitted 1,615 petition signatures for a ballot initiative that would permit all state cannabis licenses within the city without restricting the allowable number of businesses.
If at least 1,036 signatures — 10 percent of the last recorded registrar — are verified by the El Dorado County Elections Department, the initiative will qualify for the November ballot. The department has 30 business days to process the signatures.
"It's going to open up all of the cannabis license types for City Council approval. It's not going to make it a free-for-all. The City Council is still going to have all of their zoning rights," explained Bass. "One way they could limit it is if they changed their zoning law and what is allowed zone by zone."
Bass' initiative allows medical marijuana dispensaries to sell adult-use cannabis, cultivate, distribute, deliver, manufacture and offer on-site consumption. Adult-use cannabis operations could not operate without selling medical cannabis — a point that City Council previously agreed to.
Through the state's Bureau of Cannabis Control, candidates could also apply for a microbusiness license, which would allow them to stack at least three of the license types and house them under one roof — a model that TWC has employed for nine years and is temporarily licensed for by the state.
The initiative outlines, in detail, the local permit process for applicants wanting to open a cannabis business in the city as well as the city's grounds for approval, denial or revocation.
It also gives cannabis businesses vested rights. To date, City Council has not decided how they will handle TWC in its proposed ordinance.
"The City Council has still not said that we are going to be grandfathered in," said Bass. "They even hinted that they might make me go through the same selection process as someone who is brand new and just applying."
Bass' proposed ordinance does allow some wiggle room for amendments.
It says City Council can form a "Citizen's Cannabis Advisory Commission" to make formal recommendations on cannabis policy, but at least 40 percent of the members must be representatives of permitted cannabis organizations or medical cannabis patients. They can also add additional state license categories or amend provisions after five years as long as the changes "are consistent with the purposes and intents of this initiative."
At present, City Council is moving forward with an ordinance that allows for two retail operations, two indoor cultivations less than 5,000 square feet, and two microbusinesses. They decided against on-site consumption, but to allow delivery as long as it originates from a licensed retail location.
South Lake Tahoe Interim City Attorney Nira Doherty did not respond by the time of press to inquiries on the impact Bass' ordinance, if passed, would have on the city's ability to control the number and location of cannabis businesses.
"What this ordinance will allow for is a robust cannabis industry to take place and for economic stimulus at a real level for the city and planning commission to review and approve," said Bass. "The vote of the people is always better than the vote of five city councilmembers."
This is one of three petition-driven initiatives that could be on the ballot this November for South Lake Tahoe residents, including two competing vacation home rental measures.