Cannabis activities, from growing to selling, will likely become legal in Riverside County in 2019. Despite opposition, the Board of Supervisors narrowly approved a revision to its current land-use ordinance, which would permit cannabis business throughout the unincorporated area of the county.

The vote was 3-2. Supervisors John Tavaglione (2nd District) and Marion Ashley (4th District) opposed the changes. Some details, such as whether cultivation may be permitted within some rural residential areas, are still to be decided.

At the beginning of her presentation, Charissa Leach, assistant director of the Transportation and Land Management Agency, explained the purposes of the proposed ordinance: “It establishes allowable and prohibited commercial cannabis uses and its zones, it sets development standards and operation criteria and sets the permitting regulations.”

After January, implementation will be a slow and incremental process. The board adopted the staff recommendation to limit, in the first year, the retail permits to 19 and the cultivation permits to 50.

Leach emphasized that it will take time for staff to learn how to process the permits. Two hearings will occur and state regulations are still being modified. She felt this was a reasonable limit in the first year. In the future, the number of retail and cultivation permits will increase. There are no limits yet for the number of permits for distribution, manufacturing and testing of cannabis.

Before the final vote, Supervisor Kevin Jeffries (1st District) described the proposed ordinance and process, “Are the regulations heavy handed? Yes! But it’s our first time at it. We will fix it if we didn’t do something or if we didn’t need to do something.”

Commercial cannabis operators and owners will have to meet several regulatory standards. First will be a criminal background check. In response to a question from Jeffries about what criminal records will disqualify an applicant, Leach said, “Any felony conviction.”

Each business must be consistent with the overall general plan and the requirement of the location’s zone. Whether to permit some cultivation within the R-R, R-A and W-2 zones, which are residential, is to be further studied and brought back to the supervisors for a decision.

Many residents of these zones, especially in Anza and Aguanga, oppose cultivation in their neighborhoods. Their objections, which were strong, included the odors, water quality, traffic volume on unpaved roads and privacy.

However, two individuals spoke in favor of cultivation in these zones, both owning or representing owners of large tracts. Randall Longwith, speaking on behalf of Cameron Ranch, between Twin Pines and Poppet Flats, said the property is 600 acres. They can easily keep the growing area out of sight of the neighbors with a buffer zone.

He also noted that this area is within a significant fire zone. Cannabis cultivation would be a lesser risk than additional housing.

The board voted 4-1 in asking the Planning Commission staff to study and review how an exception might be allowed, while protecting neighboring parcels.

Obtaining a conditional use permit for the business will be required and that process includes two public hearings — before the Planning Commission and then the supervisors.

Development agreements with the county will be another requirement. These will specify the operations fees, as well as stipulate any community benefit, such as roads or parks, which the operator would be willing to provide.

“I strongly support the community benefit concept,” said Jeffries. “So many unincorporated communities have been left behind. Few parks and little revenue to support local facilities … The development agreement is an opportunity for cannabis facilities to be good neighbors.”

All operators must be at least 21 years old, provide a security plan and obtain a state license. For growers, other requirements and limitations include methods to control odors, no visible live plants, a “will-serve” letter from the local water district and a 1-acre limit. Nurseries are not considered growers, consequently, no mature plants may be for sale at a nursery.

The ordinance does include two significant prohibitions. No outdoor cultivation will be permitted. All of the cultivation permitted must be under some form of cover and not visible beyond the property.

Although the three zones in which cultivation will be studied permit agricultural uses, Leach told the supervisors that cannabis is not like other agricultural commodities. From seed to sale, cannabis is regulated and tracked unlike any other agricultural product; it is still considered a Schedule 1 Drug, and it is not covered by California’s Right-to-Farm.

“These are residential zones and a lot of people are living within these zones,” she stated. Many residents have raised concerns about cannabis activities near homes.

Also, the county will not permit mobile cannabis retailers, which is selling from a vehicle such a truck. Current state regulations will permit retail establishments to deliver products to any customer.

The county also had asked its staff to examine the issue of “on-site consumption.” Alicia Barry, Idyllwild resident, was one of several people in favor of permitting some limited on-site use.

“The new land development agreements will help the community,” she stated. “But keep an open mind about one place for consumption.”

Although Ashley opposed the ordinance, he supports cultivation, with restrictions, within the rural residential zones. “If you do go ahead, after listening to the arguments very carefully, the speakers for Cameron Ranch and the last speaker gave perfect examples of why it would work in these zones.”

He did vote no on the ordnance, but supported more staff analysis of permitting cultivation in the rural residential zones.

Both Ashley and Tavaglione in opposing the ordinance cited statistics from Colorado, where cannabis is legal, about the increase in crime rates.

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