Valley News -

Board creates committee to assess good, bad in cannabis regulations

 

Last updated 2/27/2019 at 11:36am



RIVERSIDE - The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Feb. 26 approved the establishment of an ad-hoc Commercial Cannabis Committee to review components of Riverside County's marijuana licensing scheme to ensure that it's fair and serving the public interest.

"We can address problems and issues with the marijuana ordinance,'' said Supervisor Karen Spiegel, who will sit on the committee alongside Supervisor Jeff Hewitt. "We need to be realistic ... in protecting our neighborhoods and the public safety.''

The committee is tentatively scheduled to issue its first report in six months.

The idea of forming a committee was floated during the board's Jan. 29 meeting, when the supervisors adopted a new policy, B-9, as well as Ordinance No. 671, both of which spell out criteria for commercial marijuana cultivators and retailers to qualify for conditional use permits and receive consideration for development agreements with the county to operate in unincorporated communities.

Supervisors Jeff Hewitt and Manuel Perez both expressed concern about perceived deficiencies in the approval process, which was criticized by cannabis advocates who addressed the board.

Hewitt expressed displeasure with public benefit scoring associated with the regulatory scheme, under which prospective cannabis growers and retailers who commit to making infrastructure and other improvements to places where they intend to set up shop receive credits on their permit applications, potentially moving them to the head of the line in vetting by county officials.

Hewitt characterized the action as a type of "pay to play'' that builds unfairness into the process.

"I like to think Riverside County should be a place where the little guys have a chance to compete and not have an R.J. Reynolds or a Philip Morris controlling everything,'' the supervisor said.

Perez complained that the regulations omitted "social equity'' elements that should be part of the permitting process. He pointed to the need for "loans, grants, technical assistance'' and other facilities to ensure micro- and small business operators in economically disadvantaged communities have an opportunity to engage in cannabis trade.

According to county Transportation & Land Management Agency Director Juan Perez, nearly 250 parties have registered with the county to compete for the 50 permits and development agreements available to prospective cultivators, and 19 permits available to prospective retailers.

The application process for the current year will close on April 12. More information is available at http://www.rctlma.org.

Cultivation and retailing operations will only be permitted in designated locations identified by the board when it conceptually approved commerce in cannabis on Oct. 23.

Executive Office staff estimated that first- and second-year costs to the county for processing permits, carrying out on-site inspections and law enforcement details will total about $3.15 million.

To recoup expenses, "public benefit fees'' will be charged, based on the size of each operation.

In the case of an indoor cultivator using between 2,500 and 5,000 square feet, the fee would run $4.50 per square foot. A dispensary operator using 2,500 square feet or less would owe the county $16 per square foot. A manufacturer of cannabis products with over 3,000 square feet dedicated to the business would be required to pay $4.50 per square foot.

The fees will be collected annually, separate and distinct from sales tax receipts.

Conditional use permits will each have a 10-year life span and cost $6,000 up front.

All entities seeking to begin operations in the county will need to procure permits from the California Department of Food & Agriculture's CalCannabis Licensing, Compliance & Enforcement Division, as required under the Medicinal & Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation & Safety Act.

 

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