Unincorporated parts of Riverside County could be legally open to marijuana commerce under a proposal from two county supervisors.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Aug. 29, will consider starting down the road toward a regulatory framework for cannabis business and activities, along with a local pot tax if voters approve. The regulations would apply to areas of the county – Anza and Mead Valley, for example – that aren’t part of any city.
The county currently bans marijuana dispensaries and related businesses in unincorporated areas. The ban has remained in place while an ad-hoc committee of supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Chuck Washington studies the county’s options after voters approved Prop. 64 last November.[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section” curated_ids=””]That ballot measure legalized recreational pot use by those 21 and older. While it’s legal to smoke and keep up to six pot plants in your home, local governments have the authority to allow or outlaw marijuana businesses within their boundaries. With voters’ consent, cities and counties also can impose their own taxes on cannabis. Prop. 64 established a statewide tax.
Residents of rural unincorporated areas have long complained of nuisances – odor, water and electricity theft and heavily armed guards roaming near homes, to name a few – stemming from open-air marijuana grows. At least some pot growers have used the guise of medicinal marijuana to plant large-scale crops shrouded by tarp-covered fences.
In a report to colleagues, Jeffries and Washington wrote that regulating marijuana could clamp down on nuisances and create an environment of accountability for pot commerce.
“ … The ad-hoc committee concluded that developing a comprehensive regulatory framework, for the Board’s consideration, related to medicinal and adult-use cannabis businesses and a companion tax measure would enable the County to better manage an already growing and uncontrolled industry,” they wrote.
Jeffries, whose district includes most of Riverside along with Lake Elsinore, Canyon Lake and Wildomar, said there are nine illegal dispensaries in a 2-mile radius near his Lakeland Village home.
“They play a whack-a-mole game with county code enforcement,” he said. “After roughly a year of legal proceedings they are closed up and then they simply reopen a few blocks away.”
“Local government,” Jeffries added, “lost this battle when the voters of California and Riverside County decided to legalize marijuana in phases.”
“The only question now for local government is do they want to keep spending taxpayer money while the black market thrives, or do they want to get out in front of it and do what government does best – regulate it and tax it?”
“I didn’t vote for it,” Jeffries said. “But we are obligated to respect the will of the voters.”
Jeffries added that he wants legal language to hold back any marijuana business application operating an illegal dispensary or grow site “up to six months or so before we enact any new regulatory structure.”
“Those who respect our existing laws should be considered first,” he said. “We can’t reward the bad actors.”
Jeff Greene, Jeffries’ chief of staff, said the plan is to set up rules so a community isn’t over-saturated with marijuana businesses. Other rules would limit how close businesses could be to schools, parks and other “sensitive sites,” Greene said.
“We definitely expect some areas to have significantly fewer legal grows and retail establishments than they do illegal ones today,” he added.
The county tax – an exact rate has yet to be offered – on marijuana could go on the November 2018 ballot. It would pay for regulatory costs and if it fails, Jeffries and Washington recommend ending the effort to allow and regulate marijuana commerce — essentially giving the public the ability to decide whether pot-related enterprises are allowed in unincorporated areas.
If the board moves forward with the Jeffries/Washington plan, county officials would create a more specific set of regulations. The public would have a chance to comment on those rules as they are brought to the board for approval and public outreach meetings to offer input on the rules are planned.
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors will discuss whether to move forward with a plan to create rules so that marijuana-related businesses can legally operated in the county’s unincorporated areas.
The board also could move ahead with a proposed local tax on marijuana that would be placed on the November 2018 ballot for voter approval.
When: 9 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 29
Where: First-floor board chambers, County Administrative Center, 4080 Lemon St. in Riverside.