Tahoe Town Hall: Education, feedback needed on recreational cannabis | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe Town Hall: Education, feedback needed on recreational cannabis

South Lake Tahoe Mayor Austin Sass says the city is in no rush to make a decision on recreational marijuana during the Tahoe Regional Young Professional’s town hall on April 19.

Though the panel at Tahoe Regional Young Professional's town hall on recreational cannabis may not have agreed on everything, they did agree on this: More education and community feedback are needed before South Lake Tahoe and El Dorado County can determine local regulations.

In short, city and county residents are not likely to know whether commercial sales or cultivation of recreational marijuana will be allowed anytime soon.

Over 100 residents — plus an additional 316 tuning in over the live stream — came to hear a discussion between industry experts and government officials on Wednesday night at the Beach Retreat and Lodge in South Lake Tahoe.

And while the dialogue was well received — there were regular bursts of applause from the audience — the overarching theme was "we need more information."

South Lake Tahoe Mayor Austin Sass, one of the panelists, said City Council and staff are in the process of educating themselves on the subject by attending state public policy workshops and meetings.

"The things that we as a council need to look at are retail sales of recreational and medicinal, commercial grows within the city limits, testing laboratories within the city limits, edible production within the city limits, enforcement, administration. Where do they go? How many should there be? What should the advertising be related to it?" said Sass.

Though adults 21 and older can now consume cannabis and possess up to an ounce of it in California, recreational storefronts cannot open until Jan. 1, 2018 — and municipalities can decide to limit or ban them altogether.

If the city decides to allow retail sales, it will also have to determine the local tax rate. Prop. 64 imposes a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana sales in addition to state and local sales taxes.

However, Sass said that it doesn't make sense to make a decision on any of this ahead of the release of the state's regulations.

Panelist Lori Ajax of California's Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation — soon to be Bureau of Cannabis Control — said the state is still in the process of determining regulations on medicinal and recreational marijuana, while also aligning the two systems.

"So we are going to have our rules on what a dispensary can do, a distributor can do, a cultivator. The city or county will have to follow those along with everybody up and down the state, and any city or county can be more restrictive," said Ajax.

State medical marijuana regulations are expected out at the end of April, however, the recreational rules are not scheduled to be released until early fall, according to Ajax.

In unincorporated areas of El Dorado County, discussions are also ongoing on how to proceed with recreational marijuana.

"We are in our way-finding stage of this process currently," said panelist Brendan Ferry of El Dorado County Community Development Agency. "I encourage you to reach out to your El Dorado County District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel with input."

Part of that education is looking to Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012.

Panelist Jon Hoistad, a Glenwood Springs, Colorado-based lawyer whose firm represents a number of municipalities, joined in via Skype. He explained that the impact of recreational marijuana across the state has been varied.

"There will be access control issues and those will affect people down to your very youngest. But there is also potential for a more measured enforcement and some economic benefit to come along with this especially, I think, in tourism heavy areas like Tahoe," said Hoistad.

Panelist Dr. Sherellen Gerhart, board certified in internal, geriatric and palliative medicine at Barton Health, added that whether or not people support the use of marijuana, medicinally or recreationally, they need to get educated on the subject.

"You need to be prepared for family members or children or grandchildren who you never suspected use cannabis, use cannabis. We estimate anywhere between 40 – 50 percent of the population in California uses cannabis on some frequency. That's enormous," said Gerhart.

"Drugs are not necessarily the problem — drugs are dangerous — but it's inappropriate use of drugs, lack of education and guidance that really get us in trouble."

Panelist and Tahoe Wellness Cooperative's executive director Cody Bass argued that regulating recreational marijuana would make it harder for underage kids to get their hands on cannabis. He also noted that Lake Tahoe's recreation economy and marijuana go hand-in-hand — something South Lake Tahoe Police Chief Brian Uhler saw differently.

"The vision for South Lake Tahoe is that 'We will reflect the national treasure in which we live.' … Go to Google and type in 'marijuana user' and click the image tab, and you ask yourself as you look at that if that really reflects the national treasure in which we live," said Uhler.

Though the conversation is just starting to heat up on recreational marijuana on the California side of Lake Tahoe's South Shore, it's been snuffed out on the other side of the state line.

At the beginning of April, Douglas County commissioners unanimously voted against allowing marijuana establishments in the county.