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Costa Mesa to charge $50,000 licensing fees for medical marijuana firms

Marijuana plants for sale at Studio City's Perennial Holistic Wellness Center.
Bear Guerra/KPCC
This file photo shows marijuana plants for sale at Studio City's Perennial Holistic Wellness Center. Costa Mesa is preparing to issue licenses to medical marijuana manufacturing, distribution and research facilities that want to operate in an industrial corner of the city.

Want to make or test medical marijuana products in Costa Mesa? It'll cost you close to $50,000 for the permits. 

Costa Mesa’s city council approved medical marijuana business licensing fees on April 19. The fee schedule is the first major step toward implementing November's voter-backed Measure X, which allows medical marijuana manufacturing, R&D and distribution centers to operate in a small industrial area of the city north of the I-405.

The city hopes to have application packets for prospective businesses ready within 45 days, according to city spokesman Tony Dodero. 

Costa Mesa is the only city in Orange County to allow for medical marijuana manufacturing, laboratories and distribution. Measure X does not allow for cultivation or dispensaries. 

City officials told stakeholders at a meeting in early April that licensing fees would be in the $50,000 to $55,000 range. They said the price was calculated to allow the city to recoup costs related to implementing the measure.

Assistant City Manager Rick Francis said at the meeting that the high cost was also intended to "weed out” bad operators. "We want the cream of the crop,” he said.

Some attendees at the meeting said the licensing fees were excessive and could further encourage the already strong "gray" market in quasi-legal medical marijuana. 

Attorney Andrea Bird, who represents various marijuana business owners across the state, said the fees seemed high but would also ensure a certain level of professionalism. 

"They’re going to weed out people that are maybe just trying to make a quick buck and instead they’re going to look for people who are in it for the long haul and are legitimate business owners,” she said. 

Bird said she hoped the city would consider offering discounts for non profits that are serving the medical needs of the Costa Mesa community.  

Would-be businesses may be willing to swallow the high licensing fees to ensure a stake in California’s cannabis gold rush. Marijuana businesses with a permit from a city or county will be first in line for state permits when California’s marijuana licensing system goes into effect next year.