The Tracy City Council took another step toward bringing legal cannabis to Tracy’s business mix after some discussion about who would be allowed to operate or work for a cannabis business.

The proposed changes to the city’s municipal code encompass a range of policies, including guidelines for applying for a cannabis-related business permit and a limit of four retail dispensaries. There would be no maximum for distribution, manufacturing, indoor cultivation or testing laboratory businesses.

Council members voted unanimously to introduce the ordinance changing the municipal code after seeking clarification on some points.

The council was unclear on a portion of the law that will require all business owners or workers to obtain a city permit before they can begin they can open a cannabis business in town. Before the city would issue such a permit, the Tracy Police Department will conduct background checks on individuals.

The council’s concern was the extent to which people would be denied these permits should a background check raise red flags in a person’s past.

Interim Police Chief Alex Neicu said that, considering that cannabis dispensaries are still cash-based businesses, local investigators should know who is handling large amounts of cash.

He noted that in Colorado, where cannabis was legalized in 2014, organized crime activity increased along with legalization. City finance director Karin Schnaider also noted that background checks can reveal if someone has stolen from a previous employer.

Councilwoman Rhodesia Ransom replied that she’s concerned that the permit process could turn out to be a layer of government control that could hinder a business’s hiring practices.

“It’s one thing to have a tool and say we know who is there, we know who to look for. It’s a totally different thing to try to tell people who they can and cannot hire,” she said.

Neicu said it wouldn’t be the police department’s intention to assume that kind of control.

“As an investigator, I’m not so concerned about employment decisions. I’m looking at investigative information, and to that end I would say knowing who is involved is crucial,” he said.

“I understand there is a lot of debate going on right now over some of the prior convictions, which ones would be expunged, which ones would be deleted or not. I think I’m more interested in the theft aspect of it because of the cash-only side of the business.”

Mayor Robert Rickman said that the permit process would serve as a way to discourage crime in the fledgling industry.

“I think we are all in a new industry and we are being cautious, and I think we owe it to our citizens that we make sure we have the safest community possible,” Rickman said.

Ransom also agreed with the background checks, as long as the permitting process reflected the continual change in attitude about cannabis and rejected attitudes based on outdated drug laws.

“A cartel or some person dealing in some organized gang, I totally get it,” she said, “but if it’s going to be the dude who was convicted of the same thing that now he can do legally and maybe it hasn’t been expunged or something like that, I take issue with that.”

Neicu replied that while there could be circumstances where a permit would be denied, he understood that every case would be unique.

“There’s going to be some that are a case-by-case basis,” he said. “Even if you’re convicted of being a drug dealer, for example, there are different levels of that and some of those convictions are being overturned recently.”

Contact Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com or 830-4227.

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