Recreational cannabis sales in El Dorado County could be on November ballot | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Recreational cannabis sales in El Dorado County could be on November ballot

Dawn Hodson
Mountain Democrat

Supervisors Sue Novasel and Michael Ranalli reviewed proposed measures to commercialize marijuana in the county with a large audience June 19. The issue now goes to the Board of Supervisors.

El Dorado County residents may have a chance to vote on whether or not they want recreational sales of marijuana in the county come November.

That issue will be before the Board of Supervisors at its July 17 meeting at which time the board will decide whether to put five different measures on the ballot related to the commercial growing and sale of marijuana.

Doing the legwork leading up to the vote has been an ad hoc committee made up of supervisors Sue Novasel and Michael Ranalli and county staff who have met 26 times to hammer out a proposal to go first to the Board of Supervisors and then to voters.

The ad hoc's most recent meeting was June 19 when it reviewed what it plans to recommend to the Board of Supervisors before a room filled with cannabis growers, sellers and others in the business.

The meeting began with a reminder that nearly 20 years ago California was the first state to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis.

Proposition 64, which was passed in 2016, legalized its recreational use even though at the federal level it remains a Schedule 1 drug and possession, use, cultivation and distribution remain illegal under federal law. More recently, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the federal government's non-enforcement policy.

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Currently there is a temporary ban on commercial sales of cannabis in the county although personal use or personal medicinal grows are not at issue and a limited number of medical cannabis dispensaries continue to operate.

The goal of the proposed measures appears to be to create a regulated market in order to eliminate the illegal grows/activities that are a source of criminal activity as well as environmental damage. As such, the ad hoc committee plans to recommend five measures to the Board of Supervisors.

The first measure would tax cannabis with the tax based on either canopy square footage or gross receipts.

Only if the tax measure passes would the other measures related to cannabis activities go into effect and it would have to pass by more than 50 percent of the vote. The other four measures also have to pass by more than 50 percent.

Complicating passage of the tax measure is a statewide initiative that also will be on the November ballot called the California Tax Fairness Transparency and Accountability Act.

If it passes, it would require a two-thirds vote for any tax to go into effect and would be retroactive to January 2018. So even if the local tax was approved, if it did not pass by two-thirds it would be null and void as would the other measures on the ballot related to commercializing cannabis in the county.

The other four ballot measures the Board of Supervisors will vote on include ones governing permitting and enforcement of commercial cannabis activities; outdoor and mixed-light cultivation for medicinal use; outdoor and mixed-light cultivation for recreational use; indoor uses, indoor cultivation, retail, delivery and distribution for medicinal use; and indoor uses, indoor cultivation, delivery and distribution for recreational use.

Permits to operate a cannabis operation will be treated as a conditional use permit subject to a recommendation from the Planning and Building director and a public hearing before and decision by the Planning Commission.

Applicants would be required to be in compliance with and cover the cost of a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) analysis and renew their permit annually. They also would have to submit an extensive amount of material detailing who has a financial interest in the business, consent to a criminal background check and provide detailed information on security and operating procedures.

Enforcement procedures include heavy fines for violating a permit or operating without one.

The ballot measure, if approved, would limit the number of cultivation operations to 150 in the county. A minimum of 75 of the total would be reserved for outdoor or mixed-light cultivation sites less than 10,000 square feet in total canopy area.

Forty of the 75 would be reserved for permits limited to a cultivation canopy of 3,000 square feet or less that is grown exclusively with natural light and meets organic certification standards or the substantial equivalent.

The ballot measure notes that the county may require a grow site be a minimum of 10 acres to maintain consistency with other laws, surrounding residential uses and neighborhood compatibility. There are also limits to canopy cover.

Public health and safety protections include background checks and fingerprinting of those with a financial interest in the company; video surveillance and minimum setbacks from any school, bus stop, place of worship, park, playground, child care center, youth-oriented facility, licensed drug or alcohol recovery facility or licensed sober living facility.

Environmental protections built into the ballot measures include a CEQA review, proof of sufficient water and water conservation, available power sources and suitable disposal of cannabis waste.

Permitted areas for indoor cultivation are those zoned Community Commercial, Regional Commercial, General Commercial, Industrial High and Industrial Low.

With the exception of a non-storefront retail facility that provides delivery service only, no more than seven cannabis retail storefront facilities would be permitted at one time.

If one or more ballot measures pass, the county expects to take up to six months to develop the necessary program. The Board of Supervisors will also retain the right to amend the ordinance in any way given that the state is still amending its regulations and because the federal government's response to state law also is in flux.

The issue now goes to the Board of Supervisors and if it approves the measures, ultimately to the voters.