South Lake Tahoe zoning to restrict recreational marijuana could cause conflict with TRPA |

South Lake Tahoe zoning to restrict recreational marijuana could cause conflict with TRPA

Claire Cudahy
If South Lake Tahoe decides to allow recreational cannabis businesses within the city, and regulate them through changes to zoning, it could require TRPA approval.
AP Photo / Seth Perlman |

If South Lake Tahoe City Council decides to allow recreational cannabis businesses within the city — and restrict where it’s allowed through zoning regulations — there could be a wrench in the plan: Tahoe Regional Planning Agency approval.

At a public workshop last week, South Lake Tahoe City Council decided to head in the direction of a temporary ban on recreational cannabis sales, commercial grows and edible production while they await California’s baseline regulations, which are expected out this fall.

During the temporary ban period of up to a year, a council subcommittee would meet with community stakeholders — both for and against recreational cannabis in the community — to try and build local guidelines off of the state’s regulations.

Discussion at the Aug. 29 workshop veered to the topic of how City Council might control recreational cannabis retail sales, commercial grows, edible production, and testing should it decide to not ban some or all of these activities.

Nira Doherty, assistant city attorney, noted that many cities turn to zoning regulations to restrict these various businesses to certain parts of the community. However, noted Doherty, this could pose a problem since zoning changes in the Tahoe Basin require approval from the TRPA — an organization that was created through a bi-state compact ratified by Congress.

With recreational cannabis still federally illegal, it is unclear if this would cause an issue for the TRPA board when it comes to approving any zoning changes to the local area plan with the various type of permits that will become available for growing, testing, producing and selling recreational cannabis.

“In California in order to regulate land uses and to limit the location of land uses and businesses within the state, you have to adopt a zoning ordinance to do so,” explained Doherty. “In Tahoe, unlike everywhere else in California, our zoning ordinances are actually our planning area statements, area plans and community plans, and those have to be approved by the regional planning agency, which is TRPA.”

It’s a potential conflict between federal and state law that the city has not faced before.

The current ordinance governing medicinal marijuana establishments within the city does not have a zoning component to it. According to Doherty, places like Tahoe Wellness Cooperative are “not limited to certain areas of the city; they were limited to a specific parcel based on where those businesses had established prior to marijuana being legal in the city.”

In short, the city did not have a medical marijuana ordinance in place when the state began issuing licenses for medicinal marijuana establishments after passing Prop. 215 in 1996. After there were medical marijuana businesses in town, City Council determined that there could be no more than three and that they could not move parcels without council approval.

But, according to TRPA spokesman Tom Lotshaw, recreational cannabis retail sales could be regulated without TRPA approval.

“TRPA views South Lake Tahoe’s ongoing discussion about retail sales of recreational marijuana as a local issue for city leaders and the public to determine the best path forward,” said Lotshaw. “If the city decides to put in place restrictions on the retail sale of recreational marijuana, it could most likely do so without requiring approval from TRPA.”

The city’s legal department hopes to have a definitive answer on if there could be potential zoning conflicts soon for the other types of licenses.

“We will have to spend some more time with TRPA, and I will need to spend more time determining whether cultivation licensees, manufacturing or testing licensees could fall under an allowable use and what that allowable use would be,” said Doherty. “If we did determine that those licenses fell under an allowable use, we wouldn’t need to amend any of plans.”

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