The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a nearly two-year ban on commercial licenses for both medical and recreational cannabis activities, with the exception of the medical cannabis dispensaries allowed to operate under county Ordinance 4999. The ban expires on Dec. 12, 2019.
The decision made Tuesday launches the next phase — Cannabis Advisory Committee meetings out of which policy recommendations will come regarding commercial cannabis distribution, cultivation, etc., and possible recommendations to place commercial cannabis tax measure(s) on the ballot. This ban does not apply to those who grow marijuana for personal use within the parameters of state-approved Proposition 64.
A staff report notes reasons for the temporary ban recommendation:
•Continues the Board of Supervisors message to allow individuals access to medical cannabis.
•Provides time to create trust in the new civil cannabis code compliance process. Many in the community do not think the county can enforce the current personal medical cultivation activities, so how can the county enforce new activities (e.g. commercial licenses).
•Allows time for the federal government and state government to work out recreational and medical commercial issues, including state rules.
•Allows informed decision-making through a measured and steady approach. There is almost a 50/50 split in public opinion in El Dorado County when it comes to allowing recreational cannabis and there is a split when it comes to allowing commercial cannabis.
•Avoids potential pitfalls through learning from benchmark counties that will start commercial operations immediately.
•Allows time for the county to build up an understanding of how an administrative process might work if commercial activities were allowed (e.g. who administers the program and how is it administered).
•There is not an overwhelming local revenue stream that will provide for all local costs or other community needs at this time (e.g. it does not cover local enforcement, education, health programs and other programs that are related to the use of recreational cannabis or help fund other community needs like road maintenance).
•The recommendation provides for a timeframe and public decisions on medical and recreational commercial cannabis in the near future.
Prior to the board’s decision several speakers, many of whom grow marijuana for local dispensaries (now prohibited), asked supervisors not to enact the ban.
Matt Vaughn with the Medical Marijuana Caregivers Association of El Dorado County, a collective with an indoor grow in Cameron Park, said the ban hurts dispensaries because they can no longer get locally grown cannabis and must purchase from out-of-county growers. He asked that the supervisors authorize the state to issue MMCA a temporary license to grow “as we move forward in good faith” toward a permanent solution.
Another MMCA supporter asked that medicinal and recreational marijuana not be lumped together, saying MMCA provides “clean, consistent medicine.”
“If the county bans our collective … our patients will not get their medicine,” he said. “This is not about getting high.”
Gwen Woodward with MMCA noted that strains grown in Cameron Park “cannot just be outsourced.” Patients have found the medicine that’s right for them, she explained, and there’s no guarantee the out-of-county marijuana will provide the same relief.
Several speakers supported the idea of a pilot program, allowing a limited number of growers/collectives to operate while the county and stakeholders work out the details of permanent policies.
After listening to speakers, District 1 Supervisor John Hidahl asked that the Cannabis Advisory Committee make medical marijuana cultivation a priority.
On the other side of the issue, resident Heather Campbell told the supervisors they should not allow outdoor grows due to what she called “destructive chemicals” used that could harm the watershed — the county’s most important natural resource.
District 4 Supervisor Michael Ranalli, who serves on the Cannabis Advisory Committee with District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel, said the county wants to take “measured steps” to get the policies right — closely looking at what’s working and what’s not in other jurisdictions and meeting with all stakeholders to hear ideas and concerns.
Novasel also pointed out that the state’s licensing system is still in flux and a temporary ban gives the state time to solidify its procedures.
The ban also allows the county to watch what’s happening at the federal level, Deputy County Counsel Breann Moebius told the supervisors. Earlier this month U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a memo indicating the Justice Department could crack down on marijuana in states where it has been legalized. Cannabis is still a Schedule 1 drug so it’s possible the federal government could prosecute growers/distributors, even if the marijuana is used for medicinal purposes, Moebius said.
“It’s still an all-over-the-map thing,” District 3 Supervisor Brian Veerkamp said before making the motion to adopt staff’s recommendation to enact the temporary ban. He noted that the county could move faster than two years to get its policies in place.
Novasel seconded the motion. All five supervisors voted in favor though District 2 Supervisor Shiva Frentzen opposed the idea of using staff time to study and draft policies and/or ballot measures allowing commercial cannabis operations in El Dorado County.