Tuesday, Dec 06, 2016
Christa Bigue
  • The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors today asked for a temporary moratorium on marijuana-related activities such as cultivation and distribution to allow time for a slower, deliberate approach to implementing Proposition 64 that may include a regional effort with cities.

    The Board at its Dec. 6, 2016, study session of the recently passed state legislation directed County Counsel John Beiers to bring back at its Dec. 13 meeting an urgency ordinance imposing the moratorium. County staff will also bring the board some proposed options for a regional workgroup of cities and stakeholders with County Supervisors Carole Groom and Dave Pine advising as a legislative committee.

    The state of California is unlikely to issue licenses for commercial activity prior to Jan. 1, 2018, but the emergency ordinance will temporarily ban outdoor grows.

    The Board’s unanimous decision to pause came after a lengthy study session on several implications of the voter-approved legislation which legalized non-medical marijuana use for persons 21 and older. On one end of the spectrum, Agriculture Commissioner Fred Crowder projected that greenhouse marijuana cultivation could generate $100 million annually and have an impact not that indistinguishable from the current greenhouse industry in the county. However, leaders in environmental health and law enforcement also pointed out potential added costs for inspections, regulation and possible public safety incidents. Questions also arose about a possible county tax and the effect on decades of County work on “smoke free norms.”

    “It’s not that you’re saying yes or that you’re saying no,” said Supervisor Adrienne Tissier, District Five, in explaining her reasons for supporting a moratorium. “I just think the County needs to digest the materials here and not move too fast.”

    Currently, the County’s regulation of marijuana-related activity is limited to a 2009 ordinance governing collectives distributing for medical use although there are no collectives operating within the County’s jurisdiction and no licenses have ever been issued. In anticipation of the proposition’s possible passage, County staff from across department convened as a workgroup for the better part of the year to explore the potential benefits and challenges.

    Several cities including Foster City, Burlingame, San Bruno and San Mateo have imposed their own moratoriums on marijuana-related activities. The Board said Tuesday that a collective effort may be the best step to prevent a patchwork of regulatory frameworks.

    Unlike the rules governing medical marijuana, non-medical commercial retailers, distributors and cultivators will be able to secure a state license without a local license. If the Board had opted to take no action, the County runs the risk of potentially losing control once the state begins issuing licenses, according to the County Counsel’s Office. Adopting an ordinance now also carries risk because of uncertainty due to the state not yet having established its own regulatory framework.

    San Mateo County voters approved Proposition 64 with 63 percent of the vote, higher than the state results.