Stanislaus County leaders, who increasingly are preoccupied with cannabis issues, made a couple of promises Tuesday.
Supervisor Terry Withrow said he’s heard it “loud and clear” that Salida residents don’t want dispensaries in their unincorporated community, and a review process makes it unlikely a retail outlet would be approved.
In addition, county staff said that cannabis businesses that are in the review process for a local permit will be cleared to get a temporary state license for commercial sales after Jan. 1. The county is screening a list of 117 permit applicants, and those applying for land use entitlements can stay open while going through the approval process next year.
Those not in the process of seeking a cannabis permit will be subject to enforcement, Assistant County Counsel Thomas Boze said. The county plans to issue up to 61 commercial cannabis permits, including seven for retail stores, and has vowed to shut down “black market” marijuana businesses.
Less than a month before commercial marijuana sales are slated to begin in California, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved local regulations for the cannabis industry, including rules for setbacks, odor controls, zoning, signs, record-keeping, employee background checks and payment of fees.
In October, the county received initial requests for 265 commercial cannabis permits including 37 for retail stores, 170 for cultivation, 24 for distribution, 32 for manufacturing and two for testing labs. In reality, the county may issue permits for 20 to 35 locations because business owners will need a combination of two to four permits.
The regulations approved Tuesday include a 200-foot buffer between cannabis activities and homes, and at least a 600-foot distance between retail outlets and schools, parks or youth centers.
Marcie Powell of Salida said she was against marijuana cultivation and commercial sales anywhere in the county. Another speaker said stores selling marijuana should not be near businesses that serve young people such as gymnastic centers.
Echoing a comment from a fellow commissioner last month, County Planning Commissioner Katherine Borges said children at home should have the same protection of a 600-foot buffer as provided in a state law that requires 600 feet between marijuana activities and schools and youth centers.
Powell added that the county will need stiffer fines for cannabis businesses that don’t comply with local regulations. The penalties in the approved ordinance are a misdemeanor prosecution and $1,000 fine.
The applications for cannabis permits will run a gantlet that, depending on their location, could include review by county staff, municipal advisory councils, nearby cities, the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. County leaders said they will listen to the advice of MACs in considering applications, and cities that ban commercial pot can veto permits within their established growth boundaries.
Some people in the cannabis trade were not entirely happy with the county’s permit review policy, which will screen, vet and rank cannabis permit applications to determine who is approved and who is rejected.
Mitch Davis, who runs Mission Nurseries, came to the meeting with employees from the Kosher medical cannabis nursery who earn $15 an hour and health benefits, he said. “These are excellent jobs,” Davis said. “Please understand these people are paying their taxes. They are members of the community.”
Another speaker, Elias Evans, said he suspected the county will award permits to businesses that will generate the most fees. Under development agreements, the county hopes to collect at least $4 million in fees on sales and indoor cultivation, money that will pay for enforcement of cannabis regulations.
Slightly more than a year ago, the county was gaining steam with Focus on Prevention, an initiative to deal with homelessness and other social ills, when California voters approved Proposition 64 to legalize pot. Like most counties, Stanislaus is reeling from a growing opioid epidemic and will focus a lot of attention on permitting pot outlets in the next six months.
To ramp up enforcement, the county will add a crime analyst and sergeant’s position to the Sheriff’s Department; in addition, a deputy district attorney and criminal investigator is recommended for the District Attorney’s office.
Supervisor Jim DeMartini wasn’t thrilled about casting a vote for the regulatory package Tuesday. “Selling marijuana is a sign of a decaying society,” he said.
He predicted the marijuana black market will continue to thrive and the county won’t collect enough fees to cover costs of enforcement.
Supervisor Dick Monteith, who previously wanted a ban on commercial cannabis in the unincorporated areas, voted for the regulations but said the county can’t be lenient with non-permitted operators.