The Board of Supervisors appears to be leaning toward allowing a wide range of marijuana businesses in unincorporated Los Angeles County.
“I personally favor serious regulation over any ban in the unincorporated area of the county,” Board Chair Sheila Kuehl said Wednesday.
However, the board this week opted to leave a full ban on the cannabis industry in effect, with nothing expected to change for at least several months.
“Los Angeles County has been thoughtful in its approach and we will continue our careful analysis,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said.
A decision is needed because, while Proposition 64 made it legal in California for adults to use cannabis recreationally nearly two years ago, the law also gave cities and counties the authority to regulate or ban most other marijuana activities within their borders.
So far, counties have been slightly more likely than cities to welcome marijuana businesses. Still, just 18 of the state’s 58 counties permit some type of cannabis operations. And in Southern California, only Imperial and San Luis Obispo counties have opted to let some segment of the marijuana industry set up shop.
County considers a change
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors has long banned the industry. But in February 2017, the board asked county staff to draft rules that would allow for cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, testing, distribution and sales in unincorporated areas.
An advisory group then spent months hosting community workshops and crafting recommendations, while county staff partnered with attorneys and health officials to develop a phased-in permitting process.
During Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, members received a 96-page county staff report with three options: permit and regulate all types of marijuana businesses allowed under state law, allow only some segments of the industry or continue to ban all commercial cannabis enterprises in unincorporated L.A. County.
Dozens of people spoke at the meeting, with the majority asking the board to open the door for all segments of the industry.
“Please take this historic opportunity to provide a regulated mark where consumers can responsibly purchase cannabis product free of stigma, untested products and the dangers associated with street dealers,” said Matthew Garland, a longshoreman and father from San Pedro.
A few people asked the board to uphold the ban or put more severe restrictions on the industry, including Eddie Torres with the East Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
“Crime is high enough as it is,” Torres said. “We don’t need to have recreational use of marijuana.”
Kuehl said she doesn’t believe there’s board support for maintaining a full ban on the industry, with public testimony clearly bent toward comprehensive regulation.
Some 56 percent of the unincorporated county area’s 507,202 voters in the November 2016 election supported Prop. 64. That’s just below the statewide passage rate of 57 percent.
Still, the board opted not to take any action Tuesday, keeping the ban in place while they study their options.
“I think no one felt ready yet to bring a motion,” Kuehl said.
Now it’ll be up to one of the supervisors at an upcoming board to call for staff to craft an ordinance that aligns with one of the three options on the table.
Three options remain
If the board chooses to go with the first option, permitting a full range of marijuana businesses, staff offered a long list of recommendations for what that market should look like.
The proposed regulations would ban all outdoor commercial cultivation.
Shops, delivery services and testing labs would be allowed only in heavy commercial and manufacturing zones, while cultivation, manufacturing and distribution would only be allowed in manufacturing zones.
The county proposal would bump up the mandatory distance between marijuana shops and schools, day care centers or parks, with 1,000-foot separations required rather than the 600-foot requirement in state law. It would also require a 1,000-foot buffer between each cannabis shop, plus a 300-foot buffer between cannabis shops and liquor stores.
Staff also recommends caps on the number of licenses handed out for the first two years. That includes no more than 25 store and 25 cannabis delivery permits, spread out between supervisorial districts and communities. It would also allow for up to 10 cultivation permits, 10 manufacturing permits, 10 distribution permits and 10 testing laboratory permits.
To roll everything out, staff recommends the county conduct a lengthy health assessment with ongoing monitoring, create a new cannabis commission to oversee permitting and offer industry benefits to people in communities who’ve been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
If the board goes that route and gets a tax measure approved by voters, staff estimates L.A. County will see $18 million in new revenue the first year and up to $33 million annually after five years.
Under the second option, the board could choose to, say, only allow medical cannabis businesses or block certain segments of the industry such as cultivation.
To go the third route, maintaining a full ban, the board wouldn’t need to take any further action.
Personal rights, area cities not impacted
With an industry ban in place, L.A. County currently has 0.9 out of a possible 100 points on a Southern California News Group weighted scale of marijuana friendliness.
The earned fraction of a point comes from the county’s policy on letting adults 21 and older grow up to six marijuana plants per household, as allowed under Prop. 64. L.A. County lets residents grow those plants indoors or outdoors, with no permit required, so long as outdoor gardens are in a backyard surrounded by a solid fence that’s at least six feet tall and set at least 10 feet back from the property line.
Supervisor Janice Hahn reiterated that the county’s ban on businesses doesn’t impact residents’ right to consume marijuana recreationally or grow it at home for personal use.
Any new ordinance approved by the board would apply only to businesses that are in the roughly 65 percent of Los Angeles County that’s outside incorporated city limits.That includes 140 communities, from Acton to Rowland Heights to Catalina Island.
Anyone who wants to open a marijuana business inside one of L.A. County’s 88 cities still has to comply with that city’s rules for the industry. Those range from very permissive, in Los Angeles, to very restrictive, in places like South Gate.
See the Southern California News Group’s database of marijuana policies to find marijuana laws for each city. Or enable the “California Marijuana Laws” skill on your Amazon Echo device to let Alexa read you the rules.