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Costa Mesa’s Cannabis Equity Program to Waive Fees for past Felons

Qualifying applicants have fees waived and preferential application status.

Residents who are financially unsuccessful and past felons, now have preferred status in the application process for retail cannabis approval in Costa Mesa. Mayor John Stephens, a proponent of retail cannabis, led the ad hoc committee creating the ordinances and policy.

The Cannabis Equity Program, supported by Council Members Andrea Marr and Arlis Reynolds, allows felons, convicted on marijuana-related charges and residing in Costa Mesa, to receive priority status. Over 60 applicants are competing for permits to operate cannabis shops in Costa Mesa.

To qualify for the Cannabis Equity Program applicants must be a Costa Mesa resident; earn less than the average Orange County annual household income; must have been convicted of a felony involving marijuana for an offense which has subsequently been downgraded or decriminalized; and must be able to pass a background check. They must also have 51% or greater interest in the business.

Once they qualify, Costa Mesa moves the applicant to the top of the list and waives all pre-application review fees and application fees for the qualifying participants.

While Costa Mesa voters approved retail cannabis in 2020, some are pushing back on the program. A recent applicant was denied by the planning commission when the neighbors protested due to the store’s location directly adjacent to their homes.  While no restriction exists in the ordinance, the neighbors were able to influence the planning commission to vote “no”.  This is not final as they are expected to appeal the decision with the City Council.

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