National City may be first in county to OK marijuana consumption lounges


National City might be the first city in the county to have cannabis consumption lounges.

If approved by the City Council, National City’s marijuana ordinance would allow up to six businesses to open up shop in the city, including lounges where people 21 and older can buy and smoke, eat or even drink cannabis.

The ordinance would also OK dispensaries, delivery businesses, testing facilities and manufacturing.

While other cities throughout the county have been reluctant to include consumption lounges in their ordinances, National City sees potential.

Officials there have been in contact with people in West Hollywood, where there are multiple lounges including some with restaurants attached.

For example, at the Cannabis Café, people can have their burgers or chicken tenders infused with 25 milligrams of THC for $20.

In San Francisco, the Barbary Coast Dispensary offers ladies’ night events and invites local DJs to perform.

National City was originally scheduled to vote on the ordinance at the March 17 City Council meeting. However, the item was pushed off the agenda to make room for presentations about how the city is responding to the COVID-19 outbreak.

City Council members in National City thought consumption lounges could provide the public with legal and safe places for people who cannot smoke in their own homes.

That’s because some rental agreements in HOAs and apartment complexes specifically prohibit smoking of any kind indoors. Therefore, renters risk losing their homes for smoking marijuana inside, and risk getting a fine for smoking outside.

“If you can’t do this type of activity in so many different places, where do you do it,” Councilwoman Mona Rios commented during a February City Council meeting in which the council increased the cap on business licenses from three to six.

That motion passed by a 3-2 vote.

National City has lagged behind other cities in the county when it comes to establishing a legal marijuana marketplace.

San Diego adopted its ordinance in 2017, Chula Vista and Imperial Beach in 2018.

While pro-cannabis groups pressured Chula Vista and Imperial Beach into adopting their own ordinance, they largely left National City alone.

Part of that was because voters there narrowly opposed the 2016 state ballot measure that made it legal to sell recreational cannabis in California.

Councilman Ron Morrison, a strong opponent of recreational marijuana, has used that 2016 vote to argue that residents don’t want dispensaries in National City.

“The only indication that we have about what the public really wants is the vote from 2016,” he said during the February City Council meeting.

Those who support recreational cannabis counter that the vote was 51 percent to 49 percent and the vote margin is hardly a mandate.

Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis views the legal marketplace as a welcome economic boost to a city that faces budget deficits.

Plus, with the rest of the county embracing legal cannabis, if National City doesn’t follow suit, its residents will just take their business outside of town – or to some of the illegal establishments.

“It’s in our community right now,” she said. “Those are dollars that are leaving.”

National City’s next City Council meeting is April 7. However, it’s too early to say whether this item will be on that meeting’s agenda.

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