Lompoc City Council members spent hours on Weed Day (4/20) talking cannabis, from the city’s attempts to conform with state regulations to staff's recommendation for a $1.3 million cannabis oversight division.

In addition, the council discussed potential ballot measures that would require annual cannabis business license renewals with cost-recovery fees and allow businesses to show tax calculations on customer receipts.

“We want them to be successful because that’s better for us. We don’t want to be out there policing them. We want to be there as friendly as we can to usher them in the right direction,” said City Clerk Stacey Haddon.

According to staff reports, Lompoc’s existing Police and Fire department staff have added cannabis regulation monitoring to their already heavy slate of duties. Other communities with cannabis industry businesses in their jurisdictions have hired staff specifically to address the varied needs of the highly regulated industry.

Councilman Jeremy Ball said Grover Beach has five full-time employees dedicated to oversight of cannabis businesses there with 11 applications in the works. Lompoc has 34 applications and no dedicated staffing.

“It makes sense to have oversight … so we don’t leave money on the table,” Ball said.

Jeremy Ball

Lompoc City Councilman Jeremy Ball addresses council members during the meeting on April 20. Discussion centered around cannabis oversight in the city. 

Police Chief Joe Mariani likened the California Bureau of Cannabis Control to the Alcohol and Beverage Control Board.

“I’ll be honest; they’re more of an administrative entity. They’re relying on us. … The bureau has said it’s incumbent on cities to make sure people are in compliance,” Mariani said.

During a tour of other California cities that had embraced cannabis, Lompoc staffers found most of those communities had a compliance or enforcement team. The average unit at that time was four to six people, while one agency had 14 assigned to enforcement and compliance, Mariani said.

In the three years since that tour, Lompoc continues to rely on existing staff, which has run on a skeleton crew after a series of budget cuts left staff positions vacant.

“If our one building official is out for vacation or sick time, there is no one,” City Manager Jim Throop said.

Recently, police staff took a lap through various cannabis operations in Lompoc.

“There was nothing egregious, but there were things everywhere we went that were out of compliance,” Mariani said. “We have a responsibility to help them be legally compliant.”

He has requested four positions within the Police Department to help staff the oversight committee, including a sergeant, two officers and a records clerk.

Currently, Lompoc Fire Marshal Dena Foose serves as the lead Lompoc city staffer handling an array of cannabis industry needs, from dealing with architects, engineers and field inspectors throughout construction to dealing with hazardous materials components related to those businesses.

At the same time, she is charged with handling a multitude of programs including the city’s annual weed abatement program, onboarding new firefighters, working with the Fire Academy, dealing with safety issues in the riverbed and, like other staffers throughout the city, stepping in to deal with code compliance issues in lieu of a code enforcement officer.

“We have literally one person overseeing all the compliance in the industry … that’s not management, that’s not oversight, that’s putting us at risk because we’re going to miss some details. That’s going to come back and bite us,” Ball said.

Additional oversight staff positions in the initial request included: a fire inspector with office support staff; a community development plans examiner/building inspector; an associate planner; consultant for environmental reviews; neighborhood preservation officer; equipment and training, all totaling about $1.3 million.

Throop said adoption of those positions assumes funding becomes available. He noted there are currently 14 active cannabis-related businesses licensed in and paying sales tax to the city. With another 34 lined up for consideration, “my goal is there’s enough revenue to cover that cost,” he said.

Ball said Lompoc’s cut during it’s first revenue-generating year was $126,000. The following year, city income from cannabis-related businesses rose to $900,000, and 2021 projections estimate the city’s share at $1.5 million.

“We’re barely starting. We have more applications not finished than (businesses that) are open. This oversight team comes at a cost, but we’re not sitting up here expecting to stay stagnant,” Ball said.

The council voted 4-1, with Councilman Victor Vega dissenting, to direct staff to bring back a proposed condensed committee recommendation complete with job descriptions, costs and identified funding sources.

They also directed staff to look at filling existing open positions in the city’s Police, Fire and Community Development departments before creating new positions, with the exception of the newly proposed, full-time development program specialist I/II to operate out of the City Clerk’s Office.

“We don’t want to be watching for your mistakes; we want to help you correct those mistakes ahead of that,” said Mayor Jenelle Osborne.

Series: Lompoc City Council

Read this collection of stories on Lompoc City Council from the past year. Read all of our coverage of local government in Vandenberg Village and the Lompoc Valley on LompocRecord.com.