El Dorado County supervisors discuss ban, regulation of recreational marijuana | TahoeDailyTribune.com

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El Dorado County supervisors discuss ban, regulation of recreational marijuana

During a presentation earlier this month by HDL consulting agency, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors heard the pros and cons of either banning or regulating recreational marijuana use in the county.

The Board of Supervisors hosted the  "El Dorado County Marijuana Policy Workshop," held to bring the board up to speed on the current standings on the policies and current trends of recreational marijuana. The meeting covered topics such as land use regulations, staffing, business taxation and cost recovery.

Marijuana has been listed as a Class I drug since 1970, making funding for further research a challenge and it's still federally illegal.

"The subject of cannabis is a pretty vexing and complex matter. The presence of a high cash value crop, legal or otherwise or the presence of a cash business brings about the public safety issue that we most deal with,"said Supervisor Michael Ranalli. "Whether or not the federal government is willing to take action on the classification of the drug is one thing, but coming with a thoughtful way in dealing with the cash nature of the circumstance would be greatly appreciated, as soon as possible."

Recreational marijuana became legal in California Jan. 8 with the passing of Prop 64. The proposition allows local government to apply "reasonable regulations" to personal cultivation, including cultivation permitting and fees.

HDL stated that the county has the discretion to pick and choose regulations and determine who can be a retailer/manufacturer. HDL went on to state if recreational marijuana is manufactured, "Every step has to be documented, so as nothing touches the black market," which also includes the product being sealed and tamper proof, similar to the way U.S. currency is handled. The county also has the ability to tax the product for additional revenue. An HDL spokesman reiterated that the county "creates their own rules."

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According to the consulting agency there can be some regulation and not a full ban on the cannabis product by the legislative body of the county.

The HDL presentation  highlighted annual revenue the county could speculatively recover if recreational marijuana is regulated. On the conservative end, $840,000 and on the aggressive end, $1.3 million could be recovered.

The presentation illustrated how a county could efficiently regulate marijuana, citing pictures of marijuana grows that mimicked greenhouses and compared the grows to industrial sized vegetable nurseries.

Without regulations, the HDL spokesman said recreational marijuana could continue to be "underground with a lack of legal outlets and it supports criminal dealer networks."

El Dorado County Sheriff John D'Agostini said he is firmly against any kind of regulation of marijuana in El Dorado County and supports a full ban.

"I have stated to the Board of Supervisors numerous times that I favor a ban on all things marijuana related to send a message that El Dorado County is not 'weed friendly," he said. "Those that use medical marijuana will still have an affirmative defense as they had since 1996 and are protected under the law. Anything less than a ban shows that El Dorado County welcomes all forms of the cannabis industry, which is not the case."

Prop 215, the Compassionate Use Act, was passed in 1996, followed by regulations on how much marijuana for medical purposes individuals could grow.

Supervisor Michael Ranalli and Supervisor Sue Novasel teamed up to create an Ad Hoc Committee after a recommendation from their staff in March of 2016.

"Knowing that this is a pretty significant problem in rural areas, I really couldn't sit silent for long. But I am really proud of our county. The representatives from HDL complimented El Dorado County on being proactive and having a thought out and methodical approach," Ranalli said.

A "strong consensus" internally within the Board of Supervisors and the general public in El Dorado County concluded that better enforcement is required.

Ordinance 5000 outlines what square footage you are allowed and what the rules are for medical marijuana grows with  a legitimate doctors note in El Dorado County. Ranalli pointed out that the ordinance has come with some complications.

"The problem has been in circumstances where there has been a gross violation with that ordinance," he said.

Earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors took action to remove the misdemeanor charge to the existing outdoor cultivation of medical marijuana ordinance and replace it with a civil process.

"It would effectively remove the decision from a jury of their peers and puts it in the hands of a civil process that outlines, if you violate the ordinance, you would receive a correction notice for example and if you fail to act on the correction notice after a length of time you get served an infraction or fine up to a certain point, then you go to an abatement hearing," Ranalli said. "There has to be a point where the judge decides the course of action. Right now we are in the process of modifying the civil process."

For now, a deadline to figure out how to deal with recreational marijuana looms in early 2018 for the county to make a decision on whether they will ban/regulate recreational cannabis. If they have not reached a decision by the deadline, the state may make a decision on how recreational marijuana is handled in El Dorado County.

"What might we allow from a taxation stand point, in order to enforce what we absolutely cannot have in our rural communities? Our approach has been very deliberate with very thoughtful steps, we know the earth underneath us on the state and federal are shifting,"  Ranalli said.