It’s a year since voters in Marina approved a citizen-driven initiative to permit cannabis businesses within city limits. Measure V was the brainchild of Mayor Bruce Delgado; he spent $1,000 of his own money and, along with then-citizen and now-Councilmember Adam Urrutia, beat the streets to collect enough signatures to get it on the ballot. Over 67 percent of Marina voters said yes to it.
As Delgado put it as he worked to get those signatures, he was tired of seeing cannabis revenue flowing into surrounding cities, and of Marina residents taking their dollars outside the city for more than just cannabis purchases. (The theory being that if you’re going to Del Rey Oaks to buy your weed, you’re probably going to the Safeway there to get your Doritos, for example.) Though Measure V isn’t expected to generate millions in tax revenue per year, it stands to generate a few hundred thousand – enough, in Delgado’s estimation, for the city to fund another police officer or firefighter, or maybe a youth recreation program.
Fast forward to now. The city has spent the past year, with a consultant’s help, creating the parameters for its licensing program. Applications are in the process of being graded.
And regraded, apparently, because a couple of notable other things have happened. First, someone dropped a package of documents on me outlining how an applicant that ranked near or at the bottom of every grade on the city’s license application suddenly is in the position to earn not just one but possibly two dispensary licenses.
Second, nobody at the city is willing to talk about it, at least not in any detail.
Delgado didn’t return a phone call, Urrutia said he didn’t want to comment and Assistant City Manager Matt Mogensen, who’s in charge of the cannabis licensing effort, is reluctant to speak, saying, “We can expect to get sued by people who don’t get permits.” (Thus far, though, since recreational cannabis was legalized in California in 2016, not a single lawsuit related to failure to get a license has been filed against any city in Monterey County.)
“Our task is to implement the ordinance as approved by voters,” Mogensen says. “We have been doing our best to keep to strict adherence to that ordinance.”
But Marina’s ordinance also appears to be something of a moving target. As written, it allows up to three licenses each for medical dispensaries and retail stores. Applicants are being graded on a 38-point scale – five points each for business plan and neighborhood compatibility; eight points for the local enterprise and community benefit plan; and 20 points for a safety and security plan.
Some of those points are transferable. If, for example, an applicant scores low in the business plan or community benefits plan, they can combine forces with another applicant who has scored high in those categories. But points from the neighborhood compatibility and safety and security plans are not transferable – security, after all, is site-specific – or at least they weren’t in the ordinance. Mogensen, in fact, sent an email to applicants on Sept. 12 stating location-specific plans can’t be swapped.
But on Sept. 17, another letter he sent opened the door for all grades to be transferable, and acknowledged the new interpretation replaces previous advice.
In the initial round of scores released Sept. 6, Marina Trading Co. scored near the bottom for two proposed locations – on Reservation Road and on Del Monte – earning only 18 points each, with zero points for safety and security plans. But Marina Trading then combined with J.C. Marina Ventures LLC, amended their application and received a perfect score for a planned location on Del Monte.
Clearly, whoever anonymously dropped the paperwork on me had an issue with an organization going from near worst to near first in the cannabis-licensing sweepstakes. “This process was abused by the city,” they wrote.
I asked Mogensen if there had been complaints about the process thus far. He responded: “I guess I don’t know how to answer that so I probably shouldn’t. We’ve had so many conversations in the past six months I’m sure we’ve heard complaints.”
Undoubtedly, the city is about to hear more.