Monterey City Council members signaled in a meeting on Dec. 1 that they're ready to follow a roadmap created by City Manager Hans Uslar to help the council make a decision about whether to allow retail cannabis in the city.
That decision could come possibly as early as February.
At the top of Uslar's goals for the roadmap were a transparent public process and frequent reports to council as they move forward. He expected to begin with at least two town hall meetings in January.
"We will put a heavy emphasis on the public input. We need to really listen to what the public is telling us," Uslar told councilmembers. "There will be several check-in points with you so you will hear what we are working on and what the feedback is we have received."
Staff members will hold separate meetings with associations from the city's business districts, Uslar said. Staff members will also reach out to the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, Monterey Peninsula College, Montage Health, the Defense Language Institute and the Naval Postgraduate School.
Uslar said specifically that staff members will not meet with cannabis industry representatives outside of public meetings. Any communications by industry members to staff would be documented for the public to see.
"They have a role to play as a stakeholder but they will have their place as part of public outreach. Again transparency is important for this process," he said.
Councilmember Alan Haffa suggested the city contract with a firm to conduct a scientific survey of residents, similar to what the city does before considering placing a bond measure on the ballot. He said it was important to make a decision about retail cannabis sooner rather than later, because of the potential revenue that could bolster the city's budget, currently flailing due to the loss of hotel and sales tax revenues due to Covid-19.
If the community appears to support retail cannabis, the city will move toward creating the legal framework, which could start after the council's decision and continue through the summer, Uslar said. Permits to potential businesses could then be issued by the end of 2021.
After one local cannabis business owner spoke to council applauding them for starting the consideration process, Councilmember Ed Smith cautioned him and others.
"We are going through a decision process with the community and some point we'll have a go-no-go and that's going to be a choice," Smith said. He was also concerned after other councilmembers mentioned potential revenue and the city's budget. "Let's not get too locked into start counting the dollars, start counting the programs. I'll trust the community's guidance on this."
Smith formerly worked in law enforcement and has consistently been against any legal cannabis in Monterey. Earlier that same meeting he was the lone "no" vote on a new ordinance concerning cannabis lab testing facilities. During the roadmap discussion he flipped back and forth on listening to the community.
"I know a lot of victims and a lot of families that marijuana has destroyed their life and I owe it to them to listen to them. So I may not change my mind, but that's OK, we're going through a process and we do want to hear from the community," he said. "Marijuana is not all cookies and roses and money worth us getting involved in. That's my value system and its probably not going to change. But I do want to hear from the community."
Uslar was only seeking input from council during Tuesday's meeting, so no vote was taken. A web page on the city's website detailing the roadmap should be ready by sometime next week, according to spokesperson Laurie Huelga.