Costa Mesa officials are looking to increase cannabis storefront buffer zones after concerns that the businesses are too close to youth centers and schools.

In 2020, voters approved Measure Q, which officially legalized cannabis storefronts and delivery within city limits. The measure established buffers between some properties and storefronts to limit the distance between them. 

The current buffer zone for schools, child daycares, playgrounds and homeless shelters is 1,000 feet — but only 600 feet for youth centers. 

[Read: Costa Mesa City Council One Step Closer to Finalizing Retail Cannabis Regulations]

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“I don’t remember how we got to 600 feet even though it’s 1,000 at schools,” councilmember Andrea Marr said during the Sept. 5 meeting. “I want the buffer to be amended to be consistent with the K-12 and playground buffer.” 

The city council voted unanimously for staff to take another look at the buffers. The planning commission will first consider any changes and make recommendations to the council within the next two months.

The current ordinance does not include buffer zones between storefronts and residential areas. 

Some residents have expressed concerns about the distance of cannabis storefronts from residential areas and schools and the overconcentration of the businesses, especially at Broadway and Newport Boulevard.  

“If four cannabis businesses are put at that corner, it will effectively turn that corner into Costa Mesa’s cannabis row, and it will do so less than 25 yards from homes and many families in our community,” Alex Frank, an attorney representing homeowners and business owners on the east side of Costa Mesa, told the council during the meeting.

“My firm has been retained to encourage the city to reverse course on this before pot shops dominate that corner and damage my clients’ businesses and their homes. And if the city will not do that, my clients intend to proceed with litigation to seek damages for the resulting injuries.”

The Newport-Mesa Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution urging Costa Mesa council members to limit the number of storefront cannabis dispensaries at its Aug. 22 meeting.

An email from Ashley Anderson — president of the school board — called for the city to create a maximum number of cannabis shops, create a policy limiting oversaturation of the businesses, increase buffer zones to 1,000 feet from youth centers and give a portion of the cannabis tax revenue to youth centers.

Local officials are also concerned for the well-being of students as they pass many cannabis stores on their commute to school. 

“My kids are eight, and they ask me all the time, ‘What’s Nectar? What’s Mr. Nice Guys?’ It’s hard to explain to them what’s going on in the community,” Erik Weigand, a Newport Beach councilmember, said during a public comment at the meeting.

Costa Mesa is one of a handful of Orange County cities — including Santa Ana and Stanton — that allow storefront sales in the community. Most recently,  Laguna Woods voted to allow the shops within city limits.

[Read: Orange County’s City of Seniors May Allow Cannabis Businesses]

Councilmember Loren Gamoeros suggested that the planning commissioners develop a plan for current applicants when they make buffer zone changes. There are currently 54 storefront applications in process that might be within these new buffers. 

The council also suggested that the planning commission look into the displacement of existing businesses since these storefronts will need to be notified of any changes and may have to relocate. 

The planning commission is in the process of researching the council’s request. Once they consider all the research, the changes will return to the full council.


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