The ban on pot-related businesses in Riverside County’s unincorporated areas will continue, at least for now, while a committee studies the county’s options in a California where recreational marijuana use is legal.
That decision by the county Board of Supervisors came at the end of a March 21 workshop on the impact of Prop. 64 on the state’s fourth-largest county. Fifty-seven percent of voters statewide last November – 53 percent in Riverside County – approved Prop. 64, which allows the recreational use of marijuana by those 21 and older under certain conditions.
While it’s legal to smoke and keep up to six pot plants in your home, cities and counties can impose what Prop. 64 calls “reasonable” restrictions on in-home grows. Local governments also can decide whether to allow marijuana dispensaries and similar enterprises within their borders.
Five of the county’s 28 cities, including Perris, allow and regulate marijuana activities, according to the county counsel’s office.
Local governments also can impose their own taxes on pot sales, provided voters approve those taxes. The county could raise $5.2 million to $17.2 million annually from pot sales with $910,000 to $2.1 million in permit-related costs, according to a study conducted for the county by the consulting firm HDL Companies.
Riverside County currently forbids marijuana cultivation in communities that aren’t formally part of any city. There is a limited exemption for medical marijuana patients and their caregivers.
Whether the county decides to ban or allow marijuana commerce, county law will have to be rewritten to account for Prop. 64.
One big unknown is what the federal government will do. While the Obama administration didn’t go after marijuana in states where it is legal, the Trump administration and especially U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions have indicated a willingness to enforce federal laws against pot.
Officials with the district attorney’s office and Sheriff’s Department warned of consequences to public safety with a wider pot marketplace. “It’s not your grandmother’s pot anymore,” Assistant District Attorney Elaina Bentley told the board when describing modern marijuana’s potency.
Bentley warned of an anticipated spike in pot-related crime, including more drug DUIs and explosions caused by “honey oil” labs that extract a highly concentrated form of pot.
Prop. 64 will lead to organized crime selling California-grown pot out of state and hiding illicit drugs, like heroin, in packages of legal marijuana to throw off drug-sniffing dogs, sheriff’s officials warned.
Law enforcement agencies in Colorado, where commercial pot has been legal since 2014, have seen their costs rise without a corresponding increase in tax revenue, said Capt. Scott Madden of the sheriff’s Special Investigations Bureau.
“From our perspective, it’s not worth venturing down this path,” he said.
Cities that allow pot commerce, but also have contracts with the sheriff for police protection, shouldn’t expect the county to cover the cost of marijuana-related problems, Supervisor John Tavaglione said.
The workshop also featured testimony from marijuana advocates, who said a well-regulated industry could yield a tax windfall, support good-paying jobs, provide a lifeline for struggling farmers and provide a natural remedy for patients like veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Contrary to the stereotype of the reggae-loving pot grower, “We are families, just like you have families,” said Anthony Wagner, executive director of the Southern California Responsible Growers Council.
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said that while he did not support Prop. 64, the voters have spoken. “We have an obligation to make the best of the situation,” he said.
Supervisor Chuck Washington agreed, saying supervisors needed more information before deciding whether to allow marijuana in unincorporated areas. Jeffries and Washington will form a committee to study the matter while county lawyers draft legal language to preserve the ban in the interim.
This article was first published at PE.com.