Buena Park is the latest Orange County city to discuss the possibility of legalizing cannabis businesses and storefronts in the city.

City officials are poised to apply for a state cannabis grant to study legalizing local cannabis retailers after lengthy discussions at two meetings earlier this month.

At their special meeting on April 20, city council members voted 3-2 to move forward with the grant application with Mayor Art Brown and Councilmember Joyce Ahn voting against filing the application.

“I think this issue is much too big for the city council to make a decision on,” Brown said at the April 11 meeting. “It should be decided by the voters of the city of Buena Park to decide whether or not we have legal marijuana in this city.”

The item was originally proposed by Councilmember José Trinidad Castañeda at the council’s April 11 meeting, who said the city should take advantage of the state grant.

“If we can’t move forward on applying for a grant for free funding from the state, then what we’re saying is, ‘Wow, there’s a bag of free money right here. Let’s just burn it,’” Castañeda said at the April 20 meeting.

The state grant program is allocating $20 million to local governments across the state that are interested in issuing cannabis retailer licenses. 

The funding would help the city conduct studies and research into whether or not they want to allow dispensaries or other cannabis businesses in the city. The deadline for the application is April 28.

The City of Buena Park doesn’t currently allow any cannabis businesses in the city, but that could change depending on how council members view the cannabis businesses later on.

“If we have a chance to get this grant, and down the road we might decide to do the storefronts, I think it’s a low-risk, high-reward opportunity,” Councilmember Connor Traut said at the April 11 meeting.

The city could receive anywhere from $225,000 to $1 million in grant funding, depending on allocations from the state. There are two rounds of funding that the city could receive depending on specific qualifications outlined in the staff report.

Phase one depends on population and is meant to support a city’s development of a local cannabis retailer licensing program. Buena Park could receive $225,000 with a potential $90,000 bonus in this phase.

To qualify for phase two, the city would have to allocate cannabis retailer licenses. Cities that previously qualified for phase one are eligible to receive at least a $75,000 grant for each license issued.

At the April 20 meeting, Buena Park council members discussed potentially allowing six storefront cannabis business licenses and six delivery business licenses in the city.

Although council members said that this application doesn’t necessarily mean the city will allow cannabis businesses in the city, the grant funding can only be used for creating future programs and planning on allowing these businesses down the road.

“If you approve the grant agreement, you are committing to spend those grant dollars toward developing a proposed plan,” City Attorney Christopher Cardinale said at the April 11 meeting. 

“You don’t have to take action on that plan, but once you sign the agreement, there is an understanding that you will move forward.” 

Proponents across Orange County have argued that allowing legal cannabis businesses will help cities benefit from the taxes generated from the business and can help them crack down on illegal operations.

Voters in Santa Ana and Costa Mesa have allowed taxed retail cannabis to operate within their borders.

In Santa Ana, cannabis revenues are helping pay for youth programs, new library services and park improvements. It also helps pay for regulation enforcement on the cannabis shops. 

[Read: Cannabis Sales Are Paying for New Public Library Services in Santa Ana]

Critics argue they don’t want any cannabis businesses in the city due to health concerns, effects on youth and fears of rising crime.

Maggie Gallego, a local parent and counselor at Buena Park High School, spoke at the April 20 meeting in tears about the issue.

“Our city cannot afford the financial and social costs that will come as a result if the city allows selling marijuana legally,” Gallego said. “Those of us in the trenches every day working with our youth can tell you the facts of the negative effects of accessibility of marijuana for our students.”

No official decision to allow storefront cannabis businesses in the city has been passed yet. 

The city would have to first come back with an ordinance to allow these businesses and approve it at a council meeting. That process wouldn’t get started until at least 2024 or 2025 if the council moves in that direction.

“I just pray that it doesn’t pass,” Brown said at the April 20 meeting.

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at ahicks@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.

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