Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors Will Consider Licensing Cannabis Cultivation

Jim Coffis

The 13 member panel appointed in August by the Board of Supervisors to come up with recommendations on regulations for medical cannabis cultivation will propose that the county drop the current 99 plant count restriction and eliminate the requirement that growers have a direct connection with one of the 13 local dispensaries.  The Santa Cruz County Cannabis Cultivation Choices Committee (C4) will also recommend adoption of an ordinance establishing a license for small scale commercial grows no larger than 100 sq ft throughout the county with a variety of restrictions.  

They will also ask the Board to extend their term for 6 months so that they can develop additional recommendations relative to the licensing process for larger scale operations as well as manufacturing, testing, distribution and retail sales..  

The BOS will take up the matter at their regular meeting on Tuesday Dec. 8.

Current county rules prohibit the cultivation of cannabis except for personal use with a medical recommendation and provides “limited immunity” to those growing for sale in one of the 13 county dispensaries.  In both cases growers were limited to no more than 99 plants.

In March the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to effectively ban all commercial grows.  A citizen’s referendum, spearheaded by a coalition of medical cannabis advocates, prevented that ordinance from taking effect and the Board subsequently repealed it.  Since that time, a number of local growers who believed they were operating in compliance with the previous - now current - ordinance have been arrested or have seen their crops destroyed by Sheriff’s deputies.

The C4 began meeting in September with a goal of developing recommendations to create a new county ordinance that dealt with the environmental and neighborhood concerns that led to the ban while ensuring safe access to medical cannabis for county residents.  

In the meantime the State of California adopted the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA) that creates a comprehensive licensing scheme to regulate a commercial medical cannabis market from seed to sale.  

Local jurisdictions throughout California face a March 1st deadline to either expressly prohibit or regulate cannabis cultivation within their borders or the state becomes the sole licensing authority for that jurisdiction. Millions of dollars in potential revenue from licensing fees and local taxes could be at stake.  

Prior to the adoption of MMRSA, local law enforcement could seek prosecution of commercial growers under state laws even if a local jurisdiction had more permissive ordinances. If the board accepts the recommendations it will provide local growers, for the first time, the ability to operate legally if they are otherwise in compliance with state and local laws.  

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