Marijuana took center stage for the Lompoc City Council on Tuesday night as an overflow crowd spilled out of the council chambers and dozens of attendees voiced their concerns and/or offered suggestions on how the city should proceed with future cannabis-related city ordinances.

The marijuana discussion lasted a little more than two hours, with more than half of that time consisting of public comment. After hearing from the more than two dozen speakers, as well as taking in presentations from City Attorney Joe Pannone, Police Chief Pat Walsh and Acting Fire Chief Mark Bray, the council ultimately decided to continue the discussion to a future date.

It was suggested by Mayor Bob Lingl, who initially called for pushing the conversation to a future meeting, that the continuance would allow the council to dive into the complex issues of developing marijuana guidelines without worrying about tiring out late into the night or early morning.

“We want to make the right decision,” Lingl said. “We don’t want to make a decision while we’re half-asleep or wishing we weren’t here. We want to be wide awake when we make these decisions.”

The marijuana discussion dominated Tuesday’s meeting, which opened with Lingl announcing that the council would not pick up its ongoing deliberations of the 2017-19 biennial budget. He said that staff needed more time to develop its next budget presentation following the direction given by council at the July 18 meeting.

The budget talks are expected to pick back up at the council's next regular meeting on Aug. 15. Late in Tuesday's meeting, the council decided to resume the marijuana conversation at a special session beginning at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 29.

The council was tasked Tuesday with providing direction on the framework for future city policies regarding personal marijuana cultivation and use, commercial medicinal and recreational marijuana operations, and how fees and taxes will be assessed in relation to marijuana within the city.

The council members did not discuss the items at hand among themselves, but they received a range of differing opinions from the various speakers on Tuesday.

Due to the large number of people who indicated they wished to address the council, Mayor Lingl reduced the time for speakers from three minutes to two minutes.

The comments consisted of about an even mix of those in favor of loose marijuana regulations and those in favor of outright bans or stringent restrictions. Several people brought along signs expressing their position on the matter, including “Drug Free Lompoc” and “Legalize Lompoc,” and Lingl had to ask several times that people not applaud speakers on either side of the issue.

Police Chief Walsh, who has spoken out against marijuana at previous meetings, used his presentation to offer several statistics from cities in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, that showed increases in citations for driving under the influence of marijuana, increased crime rates, and rises in teens reporting that they have used marijuana.

Walsh warned that bringing marijuana commerce into Lompoc would lead to increased crime within the city, as well as increased costs to train officers.

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“(Cartels) are embedded in our community … and I worry about that,” he said. “For them, the cartels, we are a small Podunk town with a small Podunk police department in their minds. They’re gonna find out differently if they come here, but that’s their mindset.”

Several speakers took issue with the conclusions offered or implied by Walsh.

One speaker said she felt it was “appalling” that the city’s top law enforcement professional was engaging in “fear-mongering.” Other pro-marijuana speakers noted that voters had already approved Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, in last year’s election, so they suggested that the conversation should be about following the will of the voters, not attempting to go against it.

Although marijuana was legalized with Prop 64, the city can still regulate several aspects of how it is used within city limits.

In addition to the opinions offered by the speakers, there were also a handful of letters made available that were sent to the city regarding the marijuana issue. These letters were all against loosening marijuana laws and/or allowing cannabis commerce, including a four-page note sent under the Lompoc Valley Medical Center letterhead and signed by 28 local physicians.

Tuesday’s discussion essentially began on Dec. 20, 2016, when city leaders proposed an ordinance that many residents, and the majority of the council members, believed was overly restrictive. The council voted down that proposal and decided to form an ad hoc committee to investigate the subject further.

The ad hoc committee, consisting of council members Jenelle Osborne and Victor Vega, met four times this year and on June 20 made a presentation to the council in which it recommended that the city craft and adopt an ordinance that encompasses all aspects of marijuana business, cultivation and use with “minimum oversight.”

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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