El Dorado County moves toward temporary cannabis ban | TahoeDailyTribune.com

El Dorado County moves toward temporary cannabis ban

Noel Stack
Mountain Democrat

By a vote of 4-0, El Dorado County supervisors conceptually approved a temporary ban on commercial licenses. Supervisor Sue Novasel was absent.

The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors conceptually approved a temporary ban on commercial licenses for both medical and recreational cannabis, with the exception of the medical cannabis dispensaries currently allowed to operate under county ordinance 4999.

Tuesday's action does not affect those who grow marijuana for personal use within the parameters of voter-approve Proposition 64.

The supervisors also dissolved the ad hoc Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee and created an hoc Cannabis Advisory Committee with supervisors Sue Novasel and Michael Ranalli tapped to serve. The new committee is charged with exploring options for handling commercial licenses and possible ballot measures related to taxing marijuana in the future.

The Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act allows counties to decide whether they will allow commercial cultivation and marijuana retailers in their jurisdictions. This temporary ban will inform the state that such activity is not allowed at this time and any applications for state licenses to commercially grow or sell marijuana for medical or recreational use in El Dorado County should be denied.

Staff outlined several reasons for the temporary ban, which will come back to the board for further discussion and possible action in December. Deputy County Counsel Breann Moebius told supervisors the county could use the time to see what's working and what's not in other California counties that are moving forward with the licensing process. Moebius added that the temporary ban allows the county to engage the public and follow its own steps:

Step 1: Continue to allow existing dispensaries in Ordinance 4999.

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Step 2: Pass a temporary ban on all medical commercial licenses and all recreational commercial licenses.

Step 3: Allow the new civil code compliance process to operate without adding any new services to evaluate.

Step 4: Create new rules for existing dispensaries and allow for dispensaries to apply for licenses — estimated time for new rules would be in the next year.

Step 5: Allow for the new civil code compliance process to prove it works over a period of time

Step 6: With the recommended appointment of a new subcommittee, create local measures for different commercial uses tied to taxation for a local election.

Step 7: Start meetings to study local measures on commercial uses for a future election.

Moebius also noted that state and federal law still conflict — marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

"We really don't know what the federal government will do," she said, adding that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has expressed a desire to prosecute in states where marijuana is legal.

Several speakers shared their opinions Tuesday — some hoping county leaders would permanently ban marijuana grows and sales while others urged the board to allow medical and recreational cannabis commercial licenses that could include cultivation, dispensaries, manufacturing, delivery, testing, and more as outlined in staff's presentation.

Kelly Chiusano with Pure Life Collective, a medical marijuana dispensary in Diamond Springs, encouraged supervisors to allow commercial grows for medicinal purposes. He said the quality of El Dorado County's soil will help ensure patients get good products and keeps costs down.

"We want to keep helping the people we help," Chiusano said.

Former county supervisor Sam Bradley also stressed the importance of local medical marijuana dispensaries. He said he and other American Legion volunteers drive veterans to the dispensaries to get their medical marijuana to treat various ailments. "They don't want to go down to (Sacramento) to find their medication," Bradley said.

Rod Miller with the El Dorado County Cannabis Growers Alliance said those who grow marijuana and those who want to grow will work with the county and noted that tax revenue from the sale of recreational marijuana is "instant economic development." He urged the supervisors come up with a policy that "works for county government, works for our growers (and) doesn't tear our community apart."

Another speaker added, "This is not a vote for us; this is our lifestyle."

But the illegal side of marijuana has posed problems for El Dorado County and some questioned if issuing licenses would help curb the illicit activity that current laws can't seem to stop or prevent.

Pleasant Valley resident Josh Bendick said an illegal grow next to his property has caused significant problems and threatens his family's health and safety. "We can smell the aroma from the other side of our property — a quarter-mile away."

Ron Wolsfeld with the Rural Community Coalition said the group worries about the effects illegal growers have on neighborhoods. "It goes beyond odor; it goes to the safety of our community."

A Volcanoville resident said her neighborhood has seen increases in thefts and trespassing because of illegal grows. "I'm asking you to protect me … protect my little community."

The question of whether permitting licensed grows would push out illegal grows couldn't be answered.

Sheriff John D'Agostini reiterated his position that he'd like to see a total marijuana ban in El Dorado County.

"A ban, temporary or otherwise, is not going to remove cannabis from El Dorado County," Supervisor Ranalli said.

Supervisor Shiva Frentzen, citing health concerns and impacts on youth, said she would support a permanent ban on recreational licenses. The District 2 representative, noting that Prop. 64 failed in El Dorado County, made a motion recommending a temporary ban on commercial licenses for medical cannabis grows and a permanent ban on recreational grows; it failed 3-1.

Ranalli motioned to accept staff's recommendation to conceptually approved a temporary ban on commercial licenses; it was seconded by Supervisor Brian Veerkamp. Supervisors John Hidahl and Frentzen also supported the motion, passing it 4-0. Supervisor Novasel was absent.