National City finalizes application process for cannabis businesses – The San Diego Union-Tribune

NATIONAL CITY — 

Cannabis businesses looking to open up shop in National City will soon have a chance to apply with the city.

The City Council recently approved a weighted application process that places a focus on local ownership, as well as ideas for how the incoming cannabis industry can offer benefits to the community.

“I think today was a very robust, very good conversation. I think it’s going to lay the groundwork of all the things that we’ve been setting for the next phase,” said Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis.

Council members approved in May the city’s cannabis ordinance, marking National City as the first in the county to allow consumption lounges. The ordinance allows for six permits to be issued for retail sales, cultivation, distribution, manufacturing and transportation of cannabis and cannabis products in industrial zones and tourist commercial areas west of Interstate 5. At least one of those six permits must be for lounges.

The application process will be comprised of four phases:

  • Determining applicants’ eligibility;
  • Evaluating the applications submitted via a point system;
  • Selecting those qualified through a process that is merit or point-based with the use of a lottery should there be a tie;
  • And negotiating development agreements with the city.

Based on a point system, applicants would have to score 90 percent of 3,000 total points to proceed to phase three. They will be scored based on their business model, plans for labor and security, community benefits, the owner’s qualifications, neighborhood compatibility and proposed location.

The initial proposal was that applicants must score at least 80 percent of the total points to qualify, but council members raised that threshold to 90 percent to ensure that the city is receiving the most-qualified applicants.

A big component of the application process emphasizes preference on local owners or residents who have lived in National City for at least three years before Nov. 9 of this year.

The local preference aspect is “to promote equitable ownership and employment opportunities in the cannabis industry to decrease the disparities in life outcomes for marginalized communities and to provide opportunities for local residents to compete for cannabis business permits,” city staff said in its report.

In the cannabis industry, social equity aims to improve access in the marketplace for all and recognize the disproportionate effect cannabis enforcement policies have had on disadvantaged communities, said National City Attorney Charles Bell.

No definitive date was selected for when businesses can begin applying, but they will be able to some time by early next year, said Vice Mayor Jose Rodriguez.

The next phase is to establish an application fee, now proposed to go toward the city’s general fund. Rodriguez said he is looking to suggest those funds go directly to services that would benefit the community.

“I feel like reinvesting that money back into specific programs, like afterschool programs because they have been decimated over the years,” he said.

The council could hold the discussion on the application fee before the end of the year.