In a move that could expedite the opening of cannabis businesses in Lompoc, the Lompoc City Council voted unanimously Monday night to allow city staff to issue letters of authorization that applicants can use to gain temporary state licenses.

Monday’s decision was reached during a special meeting that was scheduled Nov. 20. The timing of the vote was particularly important as city staff will need to prepare and issue the letters this week so that operators can apply for the temporary state licenses by Dec. 1, which is the deadline set by some state licensing agencies for anyone seeking a temporary state cannabis license. State leaders have announced that the temporary licenses will not be issued after Jan. 1.

“It will be a task, but we will do our best,” City Attorney Jeff Malawy said of getting the letters to applicants, ideally by Wednesday, so that they will have enough time to apply with the state.

Per Monday’s decision, the 22 applicants that have applications pending with the city of Lompoc will be eligible to receive a letter of authorization.

The letters do not amount to full local authorization, which is required for a business to open its doors, but they do give the applicants a leg up on gaining state approval, which is also required to begin operation.

With the temporary state permit, a business that receives its Lompoc permit could conceivably open its doors as soon as early 2019. Without the authorization letter, Lompoc applicants would need to wait until they received their local license before applying for an annual state license, which could take an additional nine months or more and likely prevent those businesses from opening until 2020 at the soonest.

One of the issues raised by Malawy during Monday’s meeting, which was attended by a few dozen residents and would-be cannabis operators or their representatives, centered on who should qualify for the letters of authorization.

Malawy noted in a brief presentation that the council could choose, as an example, to have only those applications that are in the third and final stage of the city’s review process become eligible for a letter. The argument for that, he said, would be that those applications were submitted earlier and are closer to gaining final approval, so the case could be made that those deserve precedence over the more recently submitted applications.

Councilman Victor Vega asked the people who were planning to offer public comment on the issue to weigh in on whether there should be a cut-off for the authorization letters. All five speakers said they were in favor of having all current applicants be eligible for the letters, as they noted that the city could contact the state at any time to revoke a letter from any applicant whose application is not approved or who acts in bad faith.

It was after those comments that Vega made the ultimately successful motion to move forward with giving City Manager Jim Throop the authority to issue the letters to all applicants.

The city has issued four cannabis-use licenses since it began accepting applications on March 1, according to city staff. A total of 26 applications had been submitted as of Nov. 20.

Of those remaining 22 applications that are still under review, 12 are in the third and final level of review. Six more are in level two, which consists of a compliance review conducted by SCI Consultants, while the remaining four — all of which were submitted this month — are still in the first level, which focuses on zoning verification.

The authorization letters that will be issued by the city of Lompoc will be similar to the authorization letters that are being sent out by the city of Long Beach. A template of a letter being used in Long Beach was provided as part of the Lompoc staff report.

In the only other action at Monday’s meeting, the council voted unanimously to allow commercial cannabis testing within the city’s industrial district.

The move, which faced no objection from any council member or member of the public, could increase the number of testing labs in the city, which in turn could increase the amount of business taxes taken in by the city. Testing facilities are not subject to the cannabis tax ordinance that was adopted by city voters in the Nov. 6 midterm election.

The Lompoc City Council will hold its next regular meeting Tuesday, Dec. 4, and then also hold another special meeting on Thursday, Dec. 6, at which time Jenelle Osborne is expected to be sworn in as mayor and the council will discuss how to fill her vacated council seat. Both of those meetings are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at Lompoc City Hall, 100 Civic Center Plaza.

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