Almost two years after the Ventura City Council passed an ordinance allowing for the delivery of medical marijuana, deliveries have yet to be made due to inaction on exactly which dispensaries will be allowed to do so, per the terms of the ordinance. Now a new state law may allow for deliveries regardless. The City Council is set to discuss the issue next month.   

In November 2017, the City Council voted unanimously (sans former City Councilman Neal Andrews, who was absent) to allow medical marijuana deliveries from up to three dispensaries within the city so long as they are outside of city limits but within Ventura County. This was the same council meeting during which the city adopted district-based elections.

The following month, the city came to a standstill when the Thomas Fire erupted and a state of emergency was declared, leaving the ordinance in limbo.

According to the city of Ventura’s Cannabis fact sheet (viewable online at www.cityofventura.ca.gov/1270/Cannabis-Fact-Sheet), the ordinance allows for a maximum of three delivery services to operate within city limits. The standards and criteria for picking said businesses must first be set, however, and during the State of Emergency, that process was put on hold with a promise to allow businesses to apply for a permit once the declaration was lifted.

The State of Emergency declaration was lifted in August of 2018, eight months after the Thomas Fire, and permits have yet to be issued, dispensaries yet to be selected.

The inaction prompted Ojai-based marijuana dispensary Sespe Creek to ask its customers to contact Ventura City Council regarding the situation.

“If you are a Ventura resident we urge you to contact your elected city officials,” read the newsletter issued on Wednesday, Feb. 13, announcing new delivery routes in Santa Paula, Camarillo, Fillmore and Moorpark as well as into Santa Barbara County. “This is a new City Council so there is a reason to hope things will be better in the future.”

Chelsea Sutula, president and CEO of Sespe Creek, says that outside of Ojai, Ventura residents make up most of her clientele. Sutula says that prior to the November 2018 elections, the City Council may have taken their time on setting standards for the ordinance to take effect.

“It’s a crafty way of procrastinating on the ordinance and using the Thomas Fire as an excuse to not having done it more than a year later,” said Sutula.

Following changes to state law, the city may not have a say on who can deliver medical marijuana within its jurisdiction, however. In December, the state of California clarified its laws, allowing for deliveries of marijuana even in areas that ban the sale of cannabis, this coming two years after legalizing marijuana via Proposition 64.

Mead Whippo, president and CEO of the recently opened Emerald Perspective in Port Hueneme, says that delivering in Ventura “wouldn’t scare [him] at all.”

“I can tell you this, that the way the state law is written, the city of Ventura would have an extremely difficult time upholding anything like that and it will come down to who enforces it,” said Whippo. “What are the police going to write a ticket for?”

Mead Whippo

Emerald Perspective maintains a delivery service to Lompoc and the Santa Ynez Valley, where Whippo first established his business. Whippo says that he expects deliveries to start in Ventura and Oxnard in the next month or so.

“If I’m delivering in that town and doing it legally and I’m licensed properly and the driver is licensed and the vehicle is legal and we follow all posted traffic laws, where are we going to find trouble?” said Whippo.

Changes to the law may have been influenced by stagnant cannabis sales. In a report released in December 2018, the LA Times wrote that the state hadn’t seen the “bustling industry” that it expected, citing “complex regulations, high taxes and decisions by most cities to ban cannabis shops.”

Ventura Mayor Matt LaVere says that the ordinance had been discussed following the lifting of the State of Emergency but that rumors regarding changes in the state law put plans on hold.

“What’s the point of spending more time and resources crafting this ordinance that looked like pretty soon would be moot?” said LaVere. Once the changes to the law were implemented in January, LaVere says the ordinance was revisited. “The next step is that we’re discussing the item in March, we’re going to be addressing an item from our staff who will come to us saying here’s the new law and should we revise the new ordinance to comply with the state law. That means soon thereafter deliveries will be allowed per state law.”

LaVere says that at the same meeting in March there will be a larger discussion regarding the future of marijuana in the city.

“I think it will be easier to get deliveries in Ventura after the revise,” said LaVere.

Sutula says that as it stands, Ventura’s undefined ordinance leaves her wary to deliver in the city despite the changes to state law.

“Since from a legal standpoint they may have made a reasonable effort to regulate it, the state might take the position that if we deliver and we’re not one of those three that the city has deemed worthy for making those deliveries, then we’re in violation of that ordinance,” said Sutula.