Ban or regulate local marijuana commerce?

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In response to state voters’ approval of Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, in November and the state Legislature’s passage of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act in 2015, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors held a workshop last week to discuss possible county actions, such as banning or regulating medical or recreational commercial marijuana activities.

In November, California voters easily approved the AUMA. The statewide vote was 57 percent for approval and Riverside County voters cast 52.5 percent in favor of Prop 64, which regulates recreational marijuana.

The board will evaluate options, including a prohibition on marijuana activities, subject to the state laws, or regulate and permit medical and nonmedical marijuana activities in the unincorporated areas. If some regulation is permitted, the board will have to address issues such as cultivation, taxation, dispensaries, manufacturing and transportation.

At the conclusion of the workshop, which lasted nearly two hours, President John Tavaglione established an Ad Hoc Committee to pursue further study. The committee comprises supervisors Kevin Jeffries (District 1) and Chuck Washington (District 3).

“I did not support Proposition 64, but the voters of California and voters of Riverside County did,” Jeffries said. “We cannot prohibit what they did not. We have an obligation to attempt to make the best of the situation and learn from the mistakes of other states.”

Both Tavaglione and Jeffries noted that the county’s unincorporated area and population, over which the board has authority, are a small part of the county’s total size and population.

Part of the presentations to the board included whether the AUMA or MMRSA affect the operations of county agencies and, if so, what concerns the agency heads have.

Fifteen county agencies, such as the Agricultural Commission, Building and Safety, Code Enforcement, Fire and Public Health, believe one or both will have some affect on their workload. “The district attorney and sheriff were concerned about increases in crime [if the county approved any marijuana activities],” wrote Ray Smith, county public affairs officer.

Environmental issues, which the board will have to address, include stream contamination, water diversion, chemical dumping and restricted pesticides, the District Attorney’s Office mentioned.

Board members themselves were concerned about the cost of policing marijuana activities, especially if any contract cities take a different direction than the county.

Currently, Riverside County Ordinance 348 bans dispensaries, deliveries and cultivation with a limited cultivation exception for small amounts of cultivation for medical purposes in specified circumstances.

The MMRSA permits local jurisdictions to regulate medical-marijuana commerce, including a complete ban. Further, to obtain a state license, a local license or permit is required.

The new California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation has announced that proposed regulations may be announced later this spring.

As of Nov. 9, 2016, California adults over the age of 21 may use, possess, transport or give away up to 28.5 grams (1 ounce) of marijuana and cultivate up to six marijuana plants, pursuant to the AUMA.

However, there are limitations and local jurisdictions may enact “reasonable” restrictions, but cannot completely ban cultivation of the six plants, according to Chief Deputy County Counsel Tiffany North. Banning and Indian Wells already have enacted some local controls.

State regulation again requires a state license, which can be nullified if the local jurisdiction bans marijuana commerce. The local license is not a requirement for the state, but an explicit ban will prevent issuance of a state license.

Besides the state-established taxes on marijuana cultivation and sales, a local jurisdiction may impose its own revenue devices. Estimates of the revenue were very broad (ranging from $5 million to $17 million or more annually) because the specifics of what would be legal are unknown now.

These are the choices and ultimately the decision the Riverside County supervisors will face in the coming months. Currently, five county cities — Cathedral City, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs and Perris — permit and regulate some form of commercial marijuana activities. Several others have begun the process, but the majority, such as Banning, Hemet and Temecula, currently prohibit medical and recreational marijuana commerce.

Despite these recent state actions, marijuana remains a controlled substance at the federal level, and federal law trumps California law, North advised the supervisors.

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