RIVERSIDE – The Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday, Sept. 12, to reinforce the county’s current prohibitions against any type of commercial marijuana activity in unincorporated communities while work continues on a regulatory framework that will set the stage for legalization of commercial sales and distribution.
In a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Marion Ashley abstaining, the board of supervisors agreed to modifications sought by chief counsel Greg Priamos, who said changes to three ordinances were necessary to prevent confusion following the Aug. 29 meeting, during which the board approved moving forward with a framework that would detail where, when and how commercial marijuana operations are permitted and taxed.
Details are expected to be ironed out over the next six to eight months, though the board will likely begin the vetting process before then.
Existing prohibitions against commercial cannabis cultivation and sales received “clarification” by the action that includes Ordinance No. 925, Ordinance No. 928 and Ordinance No. 866.
Ordinance No. 925 permits medical marijuana patients and their caregivers to cultivate up to 24 cannabis plants on private property, and under Proposition 64, individuals who are at least 21 years old may grow up to six plants for personal use in a private dwelling, though any type of indoor or outdoor commercial cultivation is strictly prohibited.
Ordinance No. 928 prohibits mobile or stationary marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas; smoking of any kind, including joints or doobies, in or immediately adjacent to all county-owned or operated facilities is not allowed under Ordinance No. 866.
The board’s Cannabis Ad-Hoc Committee, co-chaired by supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Chuck Washington, recommended that a regulatory scheme be implemented to keep pace with changes spurred by Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, as well as the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act of 2015, which under Senate Bill 94 became the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act.
The laws paved the way for commercial marijuana grows and sales statewide. However, localities continue to have authority to regulate the activity – up to and including blanket bans.
In debating the possibility of a framework, Supervisor Marion Ashley was critical, saying the concept was “wrong” and a “moral issue” that had not been settled. He abstained from the Aug. 29 vote. Supervisor John Tavaglione was absent, and supervisors Jeffries, Washington and Perez voted in favor.
Jeffries and Washington said a licensing regime for commercial activity would mean prospective vendors would be closely vetted, and the “illegal market” might dry up.
They acknowledged that the retail market may suffer if taxes are too high. Under Proposition 64, there’s a 15 percent statewide excise tax on all cannabis-related retail sales transactions – on top of existing general sales and use taxes – as well as a $9.25 per ounce cultivation tax for cannabis flowers and $2.75 per ounce tax for dried cannabis leaves.
Tentative estimates put county revenue generation from cannabis taxation at between $10 million and $25 million annually.
Five cities within the county have established a permitting process for commercial grows, including Cathedral City, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs and Perris, according to the Office of County Counsel.