Supervisors take steps to begin cannabis legalization

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At the Aug. 29 board of supervisors meeting, the future regulation of the legal cannabis commerce within Riverside County was begun. However, as Supervisor Kevin Jeffries (1st District) emphasized, the future legalization of cannabis marketing will be totally dependent upon the approval of a tax measure on the November 2018 ballot.

The board, in a 3-0 vote, with Supervisor Marion Ashley (5th District) abstaining and Supervisor John Tavaglione (2nd District) absent, approved the recommendation of the Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee to direct staff to begin developing a comprehensive regulatory program for commercial cannabis.

As he introduced the recommendations of the ad hoc committee, of which he and Supervisor Chuck Washington (3rd District) are the members, Jeffries emphasized,

“I did not vote for Proposition 64 nor am I a marijuana enthusiast or an advocate. But it is my opinion we have lost the war on cannabis in Riverside County. And it is time to start regulating it to protect our neighborhoods.”

One of the reasons the ad hoc committee recommended the board move toward a legal, but regulated, cannabis industry, was the futility of banning it and trying to enforce the laws.

“I have five to nine illegal dispensaries within 2 miles of my house,” he said. “It’s like a whack-a-mole game for the county staff.” He was sharing and repeating the frustration of many county residents, such as in Idyllwild, who oppose the presence of the dispensaries. Yet, they are in violation of a code-enforcement ordinance and their business is not a criminal venture.

“At the time, it appears to be a battle we are not winning,” Washington lamented. Then he later added, “The most illuminative issue … for me was the fact that whether we ban marijuana totally or regulate marijuana it is about the same level of staffing to fight marijuana growing and dispensaries in the county.”

The new ordinances are dependent upon passage of the tax measure and residents from the whole county, not just the unincorporated areas will vote on it.

The intent is to create areas, such as near schools and neighborhoods, where the cannabis commerce would be banned. Jeffries also said there will be criterion for approval of license. For example, being “busted for an illegal dispensary or grow site” would prevent issuance of the license for some period.

Ashley expressed his mixed emotions about the action. “I’m really conflicted the way we’re going. It is probably the best we can do, but I sure don’t feel very happy about it.” While he supports the availability of medical cannabis, he is concerned about recreational use, which is why he abstained from this vote.

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