Supervisors receptive to loosening marijuana regulations

RIVERSIDE –Riverside County supervisors agreed Tuesday, March 21, that they’re open to relaxing marijuana regulations under the provisions of Proposition 64, but there was no consensus yet as to how to proceed.

“I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I am the definition of `no fun,” Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said. “But the voters of California and Riverside County did speak, and they did so overwhelmingly in favor of Prop. 64 November. So we have an obligation to make the best of the situation.”

During a rare afternoon session, the board of supervisors held a nearly three-hour public hearing to assess the impact of the voter-approved measure and gather input from sources for and against allowing marijuana activities in the county’s unincorporated communities. Two out of three supervisors were in favor of relaxing the regulations.

“I am going to keep an open mind about what things need to be considered,” Supervisor Chuck Washington said. “We can come up with a plan that works for Riverside County.”

Supervisor Marion Ashley was absent, on personal leave.

Board Chairman John Tavaglione did not speak directly to the issue but sympathized with law enforcement officials, who spoke against permitting cannabis distribution businesses in the county.

“These drugs are taking lives,” Jurupa Valley City Councilman Mike Goodland, a retired West Covina police officer, told the board. “One life taken is too many. I’ve seen what can happen. You should restrict authorization. Don’t take the revenue. This is blood money affecting our society.”

Anthony Wagner, executive director of the Southern California Responsible Growers Council, a pro-marijuana cultivation coalition, highlighted the benefits of legalizing commercial cannabis grows, creating a regulatory framework that rewards “lawful entities” and drives out “the 2,700 illegal farms in the county’s back country.”

“Our members are families and create a legacy through crop diversification,” Wagner said.

County sales tax consultant Mark Lovelace presented several potential tax options for the board to consider, using mostly hypothetical data.

Under the most monetarily rewarding example, Lovelace showed that if the county imposed a tax of $10 per square foot of commercial development space dedicated to marijuana cultivation and tacked on an additional 7 percent levy on gross receipts from marijuana sales, the county could net $17.2 million in revenue in one year.

That scenario would involve having 120 permitted entities in the unincorporated areas, Lovelace said. However, he noted that there would be county expenses from enforcement and administration that could exceed $2 million annually.

A representative from the district attorney’s office told the board that the county is facing a host of complications stemming from Proposition 64, with or without permitting of commercial grows. She said prosecutors are engaged in extensive training to better understand how to move forward with cases when small quantities of pot are involved.

The county could also get bogged down in thousands of re-sentencing petitions that enable offenders to have their felony convictions reduced to misdemeanors or infractions due to changes in the law.

Five cities within Riverside County have established a permitting process for commercial grows, specifically Cathedral City, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs and Perris, according to the Office of County Counsel.

Agency attorney Tiffany North told the board that Los Angeles and Orange counties are considering proposals to permit commercial cultivation, while San Bernardino and San Diego counties are in favor of ongoing prohibitions against marijuana in their unincorporated areas.

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act makes it legal for individuals 21 years and over to use marijuana recreationally, not just as a medical remedy for various conditions.

According to the Office of County Counsel, most of the county’s existing regulations prohibiting the cultivation and use of marijuana were not automatically undone by Proposition 64.

County Ordinance No. 928 does not permit mobile or stationary marijuana dispensaries to operate in unincorporated areas, and Ordinance No. 925 permits medical marijuana patients and their caregivers to cultivate up to 24 cannabis plants on private property, though all cultivation is prohibited within 1,000 feet of schools, parks and day care centers. Growers are also required to have their pot plants hidden from view in secure locations.

Local prohibitions against general recreational use are no longer valid as a result of Proposition 64, which allows personal marijuana grows limited to six plants per individual, as well as the possession of 28.5 grams of raw product and 8 grams of concentrated cannabis.

Jeffries and Washington volunteered to form an ad hoc committee to further examine the ramifications of relaxing regulations against grows and dispensaries and the resultant tax collection options. Any proposed tax must first be ratified by local voters. No date was set for a second hearing on the matter.

California led the way in cultivation and use of medical marijuana with the passage of Proposition 215 or the California Compassionate Use Act in 1996. Localities can regulate the conditions under which grows are established and the responsibilities of the parties involved, according to statutes passed by the Legislature and signed into law in 2004 and 2010.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration still views marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic prohibited under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

In a recent interview, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the Justice Department will continue to enforce federal law regarding marijuana use, vowing to make arrests and to prosecute lawbreakers, even in states where recreational cannabis use has been legalized.

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