Pubdate: Thu, 12 Nov 2015
Source: Chico News & Review, The (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Chico Community Publishing, Inc.
Author: Meredith J. Cooper


Supervisors Face Tough Decisions Regarding Commercial Medical Marijuana

A package of three bills, passed by the state Legislature in 
September and signed by the governor last month, has the potential to 
change the entire landscape of medical marijuana access in 
California. Broadly speaking, they legalize the sale of medical 
cannabis, which until now has been strictly a not-for-profit 
enterprise (officially, at least).

The three new laws-Assembly Bill 243, Assembly Bill 266 and Senate 
Bill 643-lay out a framework for licensing and permitting medical 
marijuana cultivation for sale as well as taxation. They also set 
forth a number of environmental regulations for operating a large-scale grow.

"They're ending the collective model and moving into a strict 
licensing scheme," explained Karen Keene, a senior legislative 
representative from the California State Association of Counties. She 
was speaking to the Butte County Board of Supervisors Tuesday (Nov. 
10) during an informational presentation regarding the package of 
bills and what it means locally. Alongside her was Paul Smith, a 
senior legislative advocate with the Rural County Representatives of 
California. Together, they said, their organizations worked to lobby 
legislators on behalf of California's counties. A big part of that 
was pushing to maintain local control whenever possible.

For example, cities and counties will be the first stop for residents 
wanting to operate commercial gardens. They are required by AB 243 to 
create a licensing or permitting scheme that will be ready to 
implement by January 2018. (Anyone wishing to operate a commercial 
garden must obtain both local and state licenses/permits.)

There is a loophole to that, however, because local governments 
retain the ability to create stricter regulations than the state's 
requirements. The county's Measure A, therefore, which regulates the 
size of medical marijuana gardens based on lot size, will remain in 
effect. That seemed to be good news to the supervisors and a handful 
of audience members, but Smith added a caveat: There's a 
controversial clause in AB 243 that he said he expects will be 
removed. That clause refers to exemptions offered to personal and 
caregiver grows, which the law allows at 100 square feet and 500 
square feet, respectively. The clause reads:

"Exemption from the requirements of this section does not limit or 
prevent a city, county, or city and county from regulating or banning 
the cultivation, storage, manufacture, transport, provision, or other 
activity by the exempt person, or impair the enforcement of that 
regulation or ban."

Patient advocates and groups like the ACLU are backing a push to 
eliminate that clause, which not only would retain Measure A, but 
also would give authority to the county and cities to outright ban 
the cultivation of medical marijuana. If the clause is removed, Smith 
said, "You'll have a hard time regulating [Measure A]" because 
personal and caregiver gardens would automatically be allowed, albeit 
with a state permit.

Smith and Keene's presentation was thorough but complicated. The 
three laws clearly pack a lot into a small package. Here are just a 
few additional highlights:

* Mobile deliveries will, by default, be allowed. In addition, 
transportation of medical cannabis-from a garden to a dispensary, for 
instance-is allowed and must not be impeded. That includes 
transportation through counties that have banned cultivation and 
sales, Smith explained.

Cities and counties can choose whether to offer permits or licenses 
for cultivation-should they allow cultivation at all-and they may 
require payment for them.

State licenses will require background checks by the Department of Justice.

Should dispensaries be allowed, they will be taxed, with a portion of 
the taxes going to local governments.

Medical marijuana is now considered an agricultural product.

While that may seem like a lot, Smith said there are some key 
elements that still are missing but in the works. One of those is a 
cultivation tax, which was stripped out at the last minute, he said. 
That money would have been "primarily destined for the environment." 
A second is being proposed in AB 1549, which calls for the creation 
of a state financial institution that would facilitate a move from 
medical cannabis being a cash-only business to more legitimacy.

Smith also urged the board to keep an eye on ballot initiatives 
calling for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. One 
in particular, the Parker Initiative, has "millions behind it" and 
also incorporates a lot of the three-bill package.

Aside from the particulars of California's new state laws, one major 
takeaway from Tuesday's meeting was that there's a new organization 
in town-the Inland Cannabis Farmers' Association (ICFA). That group, 
headed by local realtor Jessica MacKenzie, made quite a showing 
during the public comment portion of the meeting.

The group, she said, which represents local cannabis farmers, hopes 
to collaborate with the supervisors and county staff to draft local 
legislation that's in the best interests of growers, patients and the county.

"We want to work toward creating reasonable guidelines that work for 
everyone," said ICFA member James Carrell, echoing MacKenzie.

Other speakers charged that allowing commercial cultivation would 
push the illegal growers out of town, which would be good for 
neighborhoods as well as the environment.

A handful of speakers spoke out against allowing commercial grows. 
"This is all a bunch of malarkey," one woman said. "This is all about 
greed at the expense of our children."

Many, as is always the case at meetings about medical marijuana, 
touted the benefits of pot as medicine. Most urged the board to think 
about the amount of money to be made.

"Let's make it where the county can make some money," one man said. 
"This is the same thing this country went through with the 
prohibition of alcohol."

"Are we still debating the moral issue of whether medical marijuana 
is good?" another posed. "Or are we making a business decision?"
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom