Oceanside’s first cannabis nursery is nodded by planners and goes to the city council

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Planning officers have unanimously recommended approval for Oceanside’s first legal cannabis nursery in the agricultural region along North River Road in South Morro Hills.

The site is owned by DM Color Express, a wholesaler and distributor of seasonal bedding plants, succulents, shrubs, trees, and other commercial nursery products.

Zenleaf LLC plans to lease approximately 10 acres and begin growing cannabis in an existing 20,000 square foot greenhouse. As Zenleaf grows, the company plans to build and expand into three more greenhouses, each 22,410 square feet in size, on site, said Rob Dmohowski, a senior city planner, in a presentation to the Oceanside Planning Commission on Feb. 8.

All plants are cloned in above-ground containers and grown indoors, Dmohowski said. The facility will have 14 employees and 49 parking spaces. Video surveillance and an on-site security guard are always present.

Zenleaf required a location waiver as the company is less than the required minimum of 1,000 feet from the nearest residential area. However, staff said the nearest house in that district is more than 300 meters away, and the entire residential neighborhood is across the San Luis Rey River and is not easily accessible to anyone on foot for kindergarten.

Three speakers at the commission’s meeting, including Judi Strang, executive director of the San Dieguito Alliance for Drug-Free Youth, said the kindergarten will be too close to homes and the city should refuse to waive the distance. However, the complainant said that all local residents had been informed of the request and none had raised any objections.

“This looks like a very good project,” said Tom Rosales, chairman of the planning committee. “We welcome it and wish the applicant all the best.”

The commission voted 6-0, with Commissioner Susan Custer absent to recommend that Oceanside City Council approve conditional use permits and relocation of the project, which could come at a meeting over the next few weeks.

“I am glad we have another harvest for farmers to keep the agricultural region of Oceanside agricultural,” said Commissioner Louise Balma.

Cultivation cannot begin until the company has obtained a state license and has demonstrated compliance with all licensing requirements.

Oceanside’s major commercial growers have long been pushing for the legalization of cannabis as a substitute for traditional plants like tomatoes and cut flowers, which the high cost of water, labor, and real estate is driving away from North County.

Zenleaf’s business plan is for plants to be propagated using a tissue culture process, the plants to grow to flowering, the flowering plants harvested and dried, the flowers to be sorted and cut, and the medicinal cannabis then bundled for shipping in 50-pound batch containers becomes a licensed dealer.

Different growing media are used depending on the cannabis strain, but the majority will use hydroponic methods because of their sustainability and environmental benefits.

“Our approach to cultivation is deeply rooted in the science of cannabis,” says the city-based plan. “Because we are experts in the genetics of cannabis plants, we have the unique ability to propagate cannabis strains with desirable traits to benefit qualified medicinal cannabis patients.”

Oceanside first passed an ordinance legalizing commercial medical cannabis deals on April 11, 2018, and has amended the ordinance several times since then. The regulation initially limited the licenses for growing cannabis to five, which were subsequently increased to 12.

City voters approved the cannabis business tax, Measure M, on November 3, and in December the city council set the tax rate at 1.5 percent of gross cultivation income.

Zenleaf is the first applicant to reach the planning committee hearing, but others are at different stages in the process.

In May 2020, City Council approved MedLeaf Delivery, a cannabis-only dispensary in an industrial park near the city’s airport.

The city also approved Left Coast Extracts, a manufacturing facility that makes steam products, located in an industrial building on Ord Way on east Oceanside near Vista.