Pubdate: Tue, 25 Jul 2017
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2017 The Sacramento Bee


If there was any doubt that Sacramento was square in the path of
California's "green rush," a recent tally showing the city could end
up with more marijuana growing operations than it has Starbucks and
McDonald's restaurants should serve as a wake-up call.

More than 100 companies have applied to open grow rooms, The Bee's
Ryan Lillis reported last week, and most are for industrial sites in
already troubled, low-income neighborhoods in North Sacramento and off
Power Inn Road.

Understandably, some residents are upset. But with more applications
arriving every week and a deadline of Jan. 1, when the commercial
production and sale of recreational weed become legal statewide, the
city is likely to start issuing cultivation permits in the coming weeks.

That makes what happens over the next five months all the more
important for Sacramento.

We didn't support Proposition 64 last November, but now that cannabis
is legal for adults in California, the Sacramento City Council must
ensure that its regulations are equitable for entrepreneurs and
strategic enough to kill a thriving black market of illegal grow
houses that have popped up all over the city.

Joe Devlin, the city's chief of cannabis policy and enforcement, has a
plan to do both, and Mayor Darrell Steinberg and City Council members
would be wise to listen.

On Tuesday, he will ask the Law and Legislation Committee to consider
modifying part of the legal framework that the council adopted earlier
this year. It sounds counter-intuitive, but he wants the city to take
a less heavy-handed approach to the fledgling marijuana industry.

"It was a one-size-fits-all model for an industry that isn't one size
fits all," Devlin told a member of The Bee's editorial board.

The biggest issue is cost. Right now, marijuana manufacturers --
extractors, and makers of topicals and edibles -- must pay about
$60,000 in nonrefundable fees to the city to secure permits to
operate. And that's on top of what they must pay the state.

For big corporations, such fees aren't a problem. But cash-strapped
entrepreneurs, many of whom live in the low-income neighborhoods that
will be saddled with the largest percentage of cannabis businesses,
can't afford tens of thousands of dollars for permits.

Instead, they'll likely keep operating under the table, making it
easier for multibillion-dollar corporations to take over the industry.
Big Marijuana will rival Big Tobacco and Big Oil.

Devlin would rather the City Council create tiers of licenses based on
the type of manufacturing a company does and, more importantly, on its
annual revenue. Under his plan, licensing fees would start at less
than $5,000 -- a far more reasonable amount for entrepreneurs.

In a separate push for equity, Devlin also plans to ask the committee
to consider doing away with criminal background checks for many of the
people who want to work in the cannabis industry. This will be a
harder sell.

Under state marijuana law, state and local agencies may -- but are not
required to -- deny licenses to people with felony convictions,
including drug offenses or other crimes "substantially related" to

But under Sacramento's ordinance, anyone who has been convicted of a
crime involving the distribution of weed to minors must file a
petition with City Manager Howard Chan for a hearing. Only with his
permission, can that person get a job working with weed. Felons and
people with a history of violence and gang activity are automatically

And that goes for everybody, from the man who wants to tend cannabis
plants and trim buds to the woman who applies to manage a retail
outlet selling edibles in sealed packages.

The city's policy goes beyond even the alcohol industry. The
California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control allows the owners
of wineries and liquor stores and bottling plants to decide whether to
hire someone with a criminal record.

Owners are subject to more restrictions, however. To get an ABC
license to operate, they must show they have been "sufficiently
rehabilitated," evidence of which varies from person to person and
case to case. But there's no blanket ban.

Marijuana and alcohol are not the same. But marijuana is a vice that's
now legal for adults, not unlike alcohol.

Requiring that owners of marijuana businesses have records that are
free of violence and drug charges is one thing. The potential for
criminal behavior is high. But we are not convinced that there should
be a flat prohibition against people who have criminal records who
want to work in this new industry.

Why preemptively limit opportunities for jobless ex-offenders who will
be living in the shadow of these businesses moving into their

This is a question that must be answered before Sacramento gets too
deep in the weeds of the marijuana industry that it can't turn back.
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