The council's action involved only a minor tweak to the existing ordinance by reducing the buffer zone around schools to 450 feet for businesses involved in the wholesale manufacturing of cannabis-related products with no public access. But the 3-1 decision, with councilmember John Stackfleth in the minority, overturned a planning commission recommendation that no changes be made.

With the local business climate continuing its steady decline – Round Table Pizza is the latest to shutter its doors – the Mount Shasta City Council reaffirmed its support Monday for the area’s budding cannabis industry.

The council’s action involved only a minor tweak to the existing ordinance by reducing the buffer zone around schools to 450 feet for businesses involved in the wholesale manufacturing of cannabis-related products with no public access. But the 3-1 decision, with councilmember John Stackfleth in the minority, overturned a planning commission recommendation that no changes be made.

It also stirred up a fierce debate about the pros and cons of marijuana. At one point, the fire marshal was summoned as the polarized, overflow crowd bordered on exceeding the meeting room’s posted maximum capacity of 230 people.

At the center of the dispute are the I Am School on Siskiyou Avenue and Jefferson Soul, which runs a cultivation business on N. Mt. Shasta Blvd and had purchased an 8,400-square-foot commercial building at 1119 Ream Avenue to expand its operations. The building in question is 530 feet from the school in an area zoned for industrial use. The 70-foot shortfall is approximately the length of three GMC Suburban vehicles, as one speaker pointed out.

Complicating the issue is the fact that the cannabis industry is still in its infancy and one size does not fit all. State regulations are designed to provide some guidance, including the suggested 600-foot buffer zone around schools, day-care providers and youth centers. But in a small town like Mount Shasta, a 600-foot buffer zone, which equates to a 1,200-foot radius, can disproportionately affect the availability of commercial space.

The I Am School had received a conditional use permit when it opened its doors in an industrial zone 20 years ago. That transaction triggered a secondary event when councilmember Paul Engstrom was forced to recuse himself from the debate because he was involved in the original sale of the property when it was the Evergreen Montessori school.

That meant any council action would require three of the four remaining council members to agree. At one end of the spectrum was councilmember John Redmond who made no bones about where he stood. Redmond originally wanted the buffer zones reduced even further and an increase in the number of cannabis-related licenses.

“I ran on pro-business. I ran on change,” he said. “More than 700 people voted me into this chair. It is time to make it happen.”

On the other end was councilmember John Stackfleth, whose motion to adopt the planning commission’s recommendations never received a second to bring it before the council for a full vote. That left it up to councilmember Jeffrey Collings and Mayor Barbara Wagner to try and hash out a compromise involving an increasingly complex issue.

“I would like to make sure we still have a town 25 years from now,” Collings said. “We live in a geographically undesirable place (for business),” he later added.

Unlike a raucous planning commission hearing on the subject two months ago, the process was more orderly this time with supporters for both sides either holding signs or raising hands to express their feelings. The presence of Mount Shasta Police Chief Parish Cross may have had something to do with that.

Passions remained high regardless.

“It’s just not fair and feels to me like religious discrimination toward our school,” said Aron Bruser, whose daughter attends the I Am School.

“That puts this into a civil rights issue and potentially a federal domain,” he continued. “It’s not right to lower it (the buffer zone) for just one segment of the population.”

Supporters of the school urged the council to slow down. Many felt the process was being rushed through and was putting local youth in danger.

But the school had also ruffled a few feathers in the process. Charges of bully tactics and false and misleading statements in postcards and brochures mailed to most Mount Shasta residents that vastly overstated the size and scope of the cannabis industry were alleged.

“It comes down to parenting,” said Jack Trout, who runs a local fly-fishing business. “Everyone can win (and) it doesn’t have to be like this.”

24-hour dispatch

In other news, the council unanimously voted to overturn a hiring freeze implemented in 2009 involving a full-time dispatcher for the Mount Shasta Police Department. The position remains unstaffed between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Calls are currently being forwarded to the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department during those hours.

Cross said his department continually tries to spend as little as possible to gain the maximum benefit. He said a full-time dispatcher would have many advantages to the community. Current dispatch services handle approximately 500 calls a year.

“We feel it is a necessity to get back to 24-hour dispatch,” he said. “It comes down to safety for our officers.”