The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted this week to advance an ordinance to prohibit commercial cannabis activity and outdoor personal cultivation in the county’s unincorporated areas ahead of Jan. 1, when new state laws pertaining to marijuana go into effect.
By prohibiting such activity, the majority of Orange County supervisors are out of step with the will of most Orange County voters, 52 percent of whom backed Prop. 64 last November, legalizing recreational marijuana. The lone vote against the ordinance was Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who specifically mentioned the will of the voters in his dissent.
Though Supervisor Lisa Bartlett dismissed the relevance of this fact by citing voter approvals of Props. 47 and 57 as reason enough to diminish the value of voter input, the reality is that, on this issue at least, voters were right: marijuana prohibition has been a failure and an alternative approach is needed.
It’s worth noting that when this proposal to ban commercial activity went before the county’s Planning Commission on Oct. 11, the commission split 2-2 on recommending continued prohibition, with two commissioners noting that failure to regulate marijuana businesses will only drive the market underground.
Thus, when the proposal went before the board, it was backed only by a staff report with questionable analysis of the issue at hand.
Among other things, the report asserted that “prohibition of commercial cannabis activities is proper and necessary to avoid the risks of criminal activity, degradation of the natural environment, malodorous smells and indoor electrical fire hazards that may result from unregulated cannabis cultivation.”
If the past century has told us anything, it’s that prohibition doesn’t work to curb criminal activity, protect the environment, stop people from being able to smell marijuana or prevent fire hazards. To the contrary, prohibition only makes it harder for communities to manage the negative consequences of marijuana activity, creating criminals out of people who would otherwise be willing to follow reasonable regulations.
As Diane Goldstein, a retired Lt. Commander with the Redondo Beach Police Department, wrote to the board, “Creating excessive barriers through bans takes us two steps backward and will only continue to prop up the illicit market while incurring significant public safety costs.”
She’s right. If supervisors are serious about actually protecting the public and having any meaningful control over marijuana activity, they should embrace legalization, not prohibition.
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