South Lake Tahoe likely to temporarily ban recreational cannabis sales
September 1, 2017
Lake Tahoe welcomed its first recreational cannabis dispensary in Incline Village this July, but as South Lake Tahoe City Council moves toward a temporary ban of retail sales and with Douglas County's prohibition already in place, it may remain the closest store for South Shore residents — at least for another year.
After a four-hour public workshop on Tuesday, Aug. 29, South Lake Tahoe City Council directed city staff to draft a temporary urgency ordinance for approval at a future meeting. The ordinance would prohibit recreational cannabis retail sales, commercial grows, and edible production for a 45-day period. The ordinance would then require an additional vote to extend the ban for another 10 months and 15 days.
Mayor Austin Sass said that after attending meetings with government and industry officials in California and Colorado, their advice for implementing local regulations was all the same: go slow.
"I do support a temporary ban on the recreational [retail sales] side, on the commercial grow side, and on the edible production side until the state of California comes out with the base regulations, because we as a City Council, whatever we decide to do, if we rush and say, 'Let's get this done in three weeks,' the state could come out with their regulations, and it could be totally contradictory to what we passed," said Sass.
The California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, the department responsible for producing these regulations, has until Jan. 1, 2018 (when sales, production and commercial growth become legal) to produce the regulations, but they are expected out sooner than that.
Sass also said he could only support recreational cannabis sales if there was a local tax. Any local tax would need to be voted on by South Lake Tahoe residents in June or November of 2018. Since the deadline for getting a measure on the ballot for the June election is January, City Manager Nancy Kerry said it would probably be more feasible to vote on a tax in November 2018, which would give them until June 2018 to draft up the ballot measure. (The deadline for putting a measure on the ballot for this November's election has already passed.)
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"Ideally this would fund SLEDNET [South Lake El Dorado Narcotic Enforcement Team] again," said Sass. "Our opioid problem is a lot bigger than our cannabis problem."
During the temporary ban period, a council subcommittee would meet with community stakeholders — both for and against recreational cannabis in the community — to build local guidelines off of the state's regulations.
"Keep in mind that an effective ordinance takes two readings from City Council, Planning Commission approval and it may or may not take three levels of [Tahoe Regional Planning Agency] approval," said assistant city attorney Nira Doherty. "So although 10 months seems like a long time, we want to get moving pretty much right away."
Doherty, who also works as the assistant city attorney for St. Helena and Pacifica, advised that City Council regulate recreational retail sales, commercial grows and edible production through zoning. This could restrict operations to specific zones, like the industrial area. However, changes in land-use require approval by the TRPA, which was created through a bi-state compact ratified by Congress. With recreational marijuana still federally illegal, Doherty said she is trying to determine if this would create a conflict.
Leading up to the City Council's decision to move forward with a temporary ban, dozens of residents got up to voice their opinions on recreational marijuana sales in South Lake Tahoe.
Sporting green "Not Here Now" buttons, several doctors and other mental health care professionals expressed concern over the impact cannabis has on the brain development of youth and those with dormant mental illnesses.
"My loved one is living with schizophrenia, and yes, he was a heavy pot user in high school," said Jeanne Nelson of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in South Lake Tahoe. "He's now 30, and I spend a great deal of my week caring for him, as do hundreds of other families that I've helped locally in this town."
"Our number one priority here should be the safety of our community, especially the children and youth," added Troy Matthews, a member of the South Tahoe Drug Free Coalition. "These cannabis substances can and will have a negative effect on brain development for those under the age of 26."
On the other hand, Jennifer Peterson, an attorney and mother of two, said the city has an opportunity to "define smart cannabis policy" and generate tax revenue, which could be used to fund programming that benefits children.
"I think it would be naïve to assume that if we ban cannabis sales within the city of South Lake Tahoe that it will no longer be in our town. Tourists will bring it from their local distributors, people will grow it in their homes, or the industry will do what it's done for years underground and avoiding regulation altogether," said Peterson.
South Lake Tahoe resident Kevin McHugh said that it's up to the individual to make the right choices when it comes to cannabis.
"Between breweries, liquor stores and grocery stores, there are close to 30 locations in an 8-mile radius where alcohol can be purchased, and five casinos in less than a mile, yet we sit here and discuss if a recreational dispensary would be an acceptable move for our community," said McHugh.
"Alcohol, gambling and cannabis can all be destructive, but it's up to the individual to establish a balanced relationship with them … No matter the vice, no law will compensate for absent willpower. The best we can do is present the necessary information and encourage our community to make responsible decisions."