Screenshot of Tuesday’s Eureka City Council meeting.


Local cannabis events are on the horizon for social pot smokers after the  Eureka City Council approved an update to the City’s cannabis ordinance during this week’s regular meeting. In addition to setting guidelines for temporary cannabis events, the ordinance update simplifies the license structure and removes the cap on new cannabis businesses.

The current ordinance, which the City Council passed just ahead of state legalization in September 2016, set up a legal framework to allow cannabis businesses to operate within the City. In an effort to make Eureka’s ordinance “the best it can be,” as stated in the staff report, City staff drew up a handful of proposed changes to streamline the program.


“As our program has progressed, we’ve noticed areas for improvement,” Senior Planner Riley Topolewski said during a presentation to the council. “One of those is streamlining our permit types based on a similarity of uses or impacts. We also want to expand cannabis uses to other similar zoning designations, further the enforcement tools and create a path forward for cannabis events.”

There are about 43 cannabis businesses operating in Eureka to date, some of which hold multiple licenses. Staff’s amendments, in part, would simplify cannabis permit types from 13 to 3: General Cannabis Use, Cannabis Retail and Chemical Cannabis Extraction. Uses would vary among mixed-use, industrial and coastal zoning districts.

The ordinance update would also expand cannabis enforcement tools and allow a more nuanced approach to enforcement. “Currently, the only options are to suspend or revoke licenses, which is kind of heavy-handed so we wanted to sprinkle in some other options,” Topolewski explained. “Some new enforcement tools include notices of violation, administrative citations and other options leading up to the final suspension or relocation.”

Most notably, the update provides guidance for cannabis events that would allow the sale and consumption of cannabis products on-site. Such events would be allowed on the premises of a licensed commercial cannabis business, on private property “without a licensed commercial cannabis use in any nonresidential zoning district” and within a City facility or public property “in any zoning district.”

“A cannabis event would require the approval of a temporary cannabis event permit, would require state approval through the California Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) and, if outdoors, on a city street or other public property, a temporary cannabis event would also require a city-approved special event permit,” Topolewski said, adding that a “temporary event” would last no longer than four days. “There will be a 21 and over requirement for temporary cannabis events. Or, if they are going to be co-located with a special event, they will have strictly enforced areas for sales and consumption.”

Councilmember Kati Moulton asked how cannabis events would differ from other special events with alcohol sales and whether there would be a designated consumption area within an event or if the entire event would have to be fenced off.

It is actually “very different,” Topolewski said, because the state requires cannabis consumption at an event to be completely separate from an adjoining event. “A beer garden is more laissez-faire, you can kind of come and go and kids can be hanging out, but for cannabis you need to be strictly separated and no visibility.”

Councilmember Natalie Arroyo asked how cannabis consumption would be monitored at such events and where accountability would lie for someone who had consumed too much.

“I think it’s challenging with bars and their willingness to cut someone off or take their keys, but I’m wondering if there is a set of best practices for budtenders, especially for temporary events,” she asked. “I would like to find ways to avoid people driving while inebriated. Are there any best practices you’ve encountered when looking at other venues?”

The City would provide the event sponsor with a three-page document that lays out the City’s rules and expectations for on-site consumption at temporary cannabis events, Topolewski said. The City developed the document in 2018 to allow for on-site cannabis consumption at indoor and outdoor smoking lounges.

Arroyo also asked how odor would be mitigated at cannabis events. There aren’t specific standards for odor elimination at an outdoor event, Topolewski explained. “It’s more complaint-driven. We will tell people right off the bat that if we get complaints from your neighbor…you’re going to have to do some improvements.”

The ordinance update would also remove the cap for new cannabis businesses. Currently, retail facilities are licensed differently than other license types. During the last request for proposals (RFP) process, the council directed staff to remove the RFP process “for retail facilities to be licensed like any other license type,” the staff report states.

Councilmember Leslie Castellano said she was not opposed to it, but asked if any local businesses had expressed concern about a potential influx of new cannabis businesses in Eureka. 

“I haven’t had anyone reach out in a negative fashion, not that it doesn’t exist,” Topolewski said. “… I’ve had tremendous positive responses from small businesses that realize that the final markup from a distribution to a retail facility can be huge for a struggling business. I’ve had a lot of good feedback in that regard, but I haven’t heard from anyone encouraging the cap to continue.”

The council ultimately voted 4-0, with Councilmember Scott Bauer absent, to approve the cannabis ordinance update.