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County sets pot guidelines

At the San Diego County Board of Supervisor’s meeting on June 9, the board voted for specific details to staff after giving its 90-day report in providing economic and equity access for the cannabis industry in the county. A 5-1 vote asked staff to follow up on nine items, with District 5 Supervisor Jim Desmond saying that he supported the enforcement of illegal dispensaries in the county, but that he could not support the motion.

“I just do not fundamentally agree that we should be promoting cannabis distribution and sale throughout the unincorporated area,” he said. “There is access. There is delivery. They can get it if they need it. But in particular marijuana dispensary sites that allow onsite consumption. I think that is a horrific idea in the unincorporated area.”

In January, the board asked staff to come back with the County’s Socially Equitable Cannabis Program, led by the office of Equity and Racial Justice, and an equitable cannabis licensing program led by Planning and Development Services to enable a full spectrum of cannabis businesses including, cultivation, distribution, testing, retail, manufacturing, and micro-businesses. In March, the board directed staff to analyze different options for the county to comply with the state’s environmental review requirements and to facilitate the five existing medical marijuana dispensaries ongoing operations.

“Staff’s conclusion is that the more environmental review the county conducts upfront, the lower the permitting requirements will be for future businesses,” said Planning & Development Services Deputy Director Rami Talleh. “In May, the board authorized acceptance of $75,000 in grant funding for the social equity program. This grant will support the county hiring a consultant to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of the historic decriminalization of cannabis has had on local communities in San Diego County.”

Talleh said that PIERs have a higher threshold for CEQA challenges, would not require include additional costs from the county, provide the least amount of environmental review and least expensive costs for the permitting process for future applicants. The PEIR process would take about two years to complete, and this timeframe enables the Social & Equity program to launch before the commercial applicants being received.

“This lead time could be used to assist social equity applicants with business planning and regulatory training before the county opens the commercial cannabis marketplace. Staff believes that the pros of the PIER far outweighs its cons and therefore recommends that this be the program’s CEQA approach.”

The motion that carried included CEQA exemption, to receive the information, adopt a standard PEIR timeframe, two years, with no appropriation of funding, allow permit holders to continue to operate past the date of April 14, 2022, directed staff to prepare an ordinance for CEQA exemptions for adult use for existing permit holders, allow permit holders to sell edibles and drinkable cannabis productions, allow permit holders to sell branded merchandise, staff to prepare an ordinance for CEQA exemptions to allow existing permits to expand up to 10,000 sq. ft., and to allow transfer of business licenses among existing permit holders.

District 4 Chair Nathan Fletcher said the progress that they are making is particularly good, and he is impressed with the social equity component and that it is not easy to align and assess all the various components to come up with the best path forward in the county.

“I am supportive of the Program Environmental Impact Report,” he said. “I think that when we are trying to create a long lasting ordinance for the county, getting that part right, I think will create greater certainty as we move into the future, and it will also allow us to continue the important work around our social justice and social equity groups.”

Fletcher said that he supports the increased need to get rid of the illegal dispensaries in the area, but in order to do that, they need to allow the existing facilities to move from medical marijuana dispensaries to adult recreational facilities to allow social equity and access quicker, with the “opportunity of where we are today to where we want to get in developing an ordinance.”

District 1 Vice Chari Nora Vargas said that she also thinks that two years is too long of a time but understands the process that will be equitable for all.

“If there is a way for the five folks that are already in this industry to engage future business owners, for me, that would be extremely important,” she said. “Access to capital is not something that comes easy, and if we find opportunities, especially for our communities of color to become engaged, allocating resources for education around this issue is important, and that our communities have access as well.”

District 2 Joel Anderson said he found it interesting that a map that showed the five legal dispensaries and all of the illegal dispensaries in the unincorporated areas of the county, and thanked the board for putting money into law enforcement because it was clear how the “illegal pot shops” were impacting the community and that many people in the unincorporated area see them as legal businesses.

, and that is one reason they are so angry about this ordinance.

“If they have been there long enough that they can be mapped, that shows that there is a problem,” he said, adding with the new additions to the motion and the funding to get rid of the illegal shops, he was happy to move forward with the motion.

Fletcher said that he supports Anderson’s call for more enforcement and part of that is for the county to provide access to folks in a safe, regulated, and legal way.

Staff will return to the Board of Supervisors with an update and Ordinance revisions for the existing dispensaries for consideration.

County sets pot guidelines

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Source: East County Californian

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