The reading of the ordinance came nearly four hours and 20 minutes into the meeting—no joke. As the council began to switch gears from the previous topic to adult-use cannabis, Mayor Pulido and Vincent Sarmiento recused themselves from the discussion. Of the councilmembers, they’re the two who’ve had the most involvement in the city’s cannabis industry through “consulting,” according to Pulido. So the only members of the council who stayed to vote on the ordinance were Juan Villegas, David Benavides, Jose Solorio and Sal Tinajero.
The hearing opened up with members of the Santa Ana Cannabis Association (SACA) addressing the council. SACA is a group consisting of the Measure BB (medical cannabis) dispensary owners. Melahat Rafiei, a leading SACA advocate, explained that the council and SACA share the same goals, particularly when it comes to the rogue, or unlicensed, shops.
“We want the shops that are littering our neighborhoods and operating in the shadows to no longer be a part of Santa Ana,” said Rafiei. “They are contributing to bad behavior and we want to combat that just like the residence, council and staff do.”
She went on to say that regulating Santa Ana’s cannabis industry is more than just a revenue generator. It helps guarantee good paying and local jobs, funding after school programs, the opportunity to utilize organized labor, as well as addressing issues of economic equity for the industry.
Next up was 420 Central dispensary owner, Rob Taft. “I look at the ordinance that you put forward here as continuing to progress that you started with Measure BB,” said Taft. “I would like to speak to cultivation, particularly. I have been asking since Measure BB’s been passed that we have cultivation so we’re not paying into this ‘gray market,’ or the ‘black market’ as we all know it to be. It’s a big forward thing here for Santa Ana residents to get jobs. I know personally we will be hiring from Santa Ana to fulfill these jobs.”
The third speaker was Santa Ana resident Ima Macias, who expressed vehement opposition to the new ordinance. “I’m here on behalf of the residence, students and every single mom who is fighting against drugs,” she said to the council. “We have cartels in the city it’s unfortunate that we try to make money from businesses like these. We don’t need these businesses, we need education…”
The last public speaker was SACA member Jason Lilly, the owner of Kannabis Works, one of the newest Measure BB dispensaries to open in the city. “I would like to thank the staff and the council for all the hard work you’ve done getting to this point,” he said. “On a state level there’s a lot of cities that don’t have their ducks in a row as well as Santa Anna does… By regulating and licensing the entire supply chain from cultivation, manufacturing, distribution all the way to the retail sale a lot will be taken away from the black market. It’ll help us be able to shut down the rogue shops and increase the regulation.”
The first of the council members to speak was Villegas, who’s not entirely for having cannabis in the city. That said, he understands that an ordinance needs to happen, otherwise major problems will arise involving the black market. “The one thing I wanted to clarify,” he said, “is that I want some money set-aside for prevention programs, prevention education some after school programs. Is that something we can do because those things need to be funded if this were to pass.”
Benavides explained that at the onset of Measure BB he was initially against having an ordinance that permitted the sale of cannabis in the city because of how invasive the rogue shops were. But after seeing how the Measure BB shops have effected the city, he was “pleasantly surprised.” Thus, he is for regulating adult-use and commercial cannabis in the city as long as money is set aside for prevention and after school programs as well.
Councilman Solorio spoke next explaining that the ordinance keeps getting better after every meeting. Seeing the outcome of Measure BB is a good indication as to how the new ordinance is going to unfold, he said. “Although this industry is generating revenue and these businesses will generate additional revenues, we’re not doing this for the sake of increasing city revenues,” he said. “It’s really about regulating this industry and acknowledging the fact that come January 1st [cannabis is] going to be legal state wide and there will be a lot of unintended consequences—ones if we aren’t proactive about could have a negative impact on our city.”
The four councilmembers involved in the discussion all voted in favor of the ordinance. The second reading and additional changes will take place on Nov. 7. If all goes well at that council meeting, according to the initial staff meeting on Oct 2, the city will begin taking business applications starting Nov. 8.