A question that has loomed over local government agencies across California for the past two years is about to drop like a hot potato into the hands of San Joaquin County supervisors:

Should the county allow commercial medical marijuana businesses?

[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section” curated_ids=””]The city of Stockton has already said yes, adopting an ordinance that allows four medical marijuana dispensaries and four cultivation sites within city limits. No other San Joaquin County community has followed suit.

Now the question centers on the vast unincorporated areas of the county. On Tuesday, supervisors are expected to decide whether an existing ban should stay in place, or whether the county should slowly develop rules that would allow medical marijuana farms, dispensaries, and manufacturers or distributors.

Tuesday’s meeting comes after months of outreach by county officials. And it’s not too late for you to chime in.

“The board really needs to hear what people think,” County Counsel Mark Myles said last week. “Those people who want to be in the industry, they’re going to be there and they have a financial interest. Everyone else that has an opinion needs to show up and share that opinion.”

According to reports prepared for discussion this Tuesday, many of those who attended recent public workshops or responded to an online survey said they support the county allowing some level of commercial marijuana, saying it would bring jobs and new economic activity to the region.

There is some cause to believe that’s true. In an online survey offered by the state Department of Food and Agriculture, 245 respondents said they were interested in obtaining some kind of marijuana license in San Joaquin County.

If all of those people were given licenses, the county could raise anywhere from $11 million to $16 million a year in taxes on marijuana farms, and another $7 million to $10 million on other types of marijuana businesses, according to an economic study commissioned by the county. Those estimates would be much lower if fewer permits were issued, however.

Along with application fees, the purpose of the tax would be to cover the additional cost of regulating marijuana.

“Cannabis is the biggest cash crop in California. … It would be a shame if the county did not participate,” one supporter said at a recent meeting, according to summaries made available by the county this week.

Some local leaders are less enthusiastic. Consultants met with key department heads across county government, who raised concerns ranging from public safety and health risks, to the fear that the taxes won’t raise enough money to cancel out all of the new costs.

County public health officials warned of potential harm from addiction, increased vehicle accidents, and risks to youth and unborn babies. Staff reports also paraphrase Sheriff Steve Moore saying that, based on what he’s heard from other areas, allowing the marijuana businesses in San Joaquin County would lead to more driving under the influence crashes and arrests, robberies and theft relating to marijuana, and the theft of utility equipment.

“Local revenue generation will be insufficient to cover the costs of enforcement,” Tuesday’s staff report says, summarizing Moore’s comments.

Whatever supervisors do Tuesday, marijuana is already here. Sheriff’s officials have removed more than 23,000 illicit plants already this year, with hundreds of employee hours required to do so, the staff report says.

Expect more marijuana starting in 2018, once the state begins issuing licenses to supply weed for personal use, as approved by voters last year. University of the Pacific economists have tentatively estimated demand for personal marijuana among San Joaquin County adults to be 11 tons, with 68,000 potential users.

District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar told consultants that she would have to hire more employees merely to maintain the county’s existing ban. She added, however, that local regulations allowing commercial marijuana would have to be developed “carefully.”

Some members of San Joaquin County’s $3 billion annual agricultural industry have warned that marijuana farms could displace land that should be kept in food crops. Representatives of the wine industry told consultants that the odor of outdoor marijuana farms “could make wine grapes unusable for wine production, which could be devastating to the county’s wine industry,” according to a summary of their comments.

And real estate and business groups have said marijuana farms could harm property values and make it difficult to recruit professionals for the county’s existing industries.

Tuesday’s decision comes as San Joaquin’s sister county to the east, Calaveras County, one of the few counties to allow commercial marijuana operations thus far, considers backtracking and putting a ban back in place after considerable public controversy.

One thing San Joaquin supervisors cannot do is ban marijuana cultivation entirely. While the state law allowing commercial medical marijuana businesses can be pre-empted by local authorities, and while locals can institute rules for personal marijuana grows as well, they cannot completely ban cultivation of up to six plants for personal use as approved by voters.

Tuesday’s meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. on the sixth floor of the county administration building in downtown Stockton.

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