Wednesday, Dec 14, 2016
Carol Marks
  •  December 14, 2016, 05:00 AM

    By Samantha Weigel - San Mateo Daily Journal


    The potential agricultural value legalized marijuana may have for the coastside piqued the interest of several members of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors while enacting a temporary ban on cultivation Tuesday.

    The board met Tuesday to enact a moratorium on outdoor marijuana growing as well as commercial operations in response to voters approving Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in the state.

    The temporary ban will initially last for 45 days and could be extended to two years, but the end goal is to study potential regulations and attempt to create a more regional approach. Getting feedback from stakeholders may assist the county in forming a blueprint law cities in the county could adopt.

    The board’s unanimous action was a follow-up to an hourslong meeting a week earlier during which supervisors heard a variety of viewpoints from numerous departments that could be affected by the rules — including law enforcement, agriculture, building, environmental and health officials.

    On Tuesday, supervisors again heard from several farmers interested in the potential to revive a waning floral industry as well as union representatives advocating for regulations that would protect potential cannabis workers.

    Supervisor Don Horsley, a former sheriff whose district encompasses the coastside, expressed an interest in prioritizing the study on a potential for marijuana cultivation.

    “We do have a lot of greenhouses on the coast and I know there’s an interest on their part,” Horsley said, according to a live video of the meeting. “I don’t particularly want to see it in open fields, but it appears some of our greenhouse operations would be potentially appropriate.”

    The county’s agricultural commissioner has projected greenhouse marijuana cultivation could generate $100 million while not having substantial additional impacts. Other departments, such as law enforcement and environmental health, expressed concerns about the prospect. Horsley noted there’s difference between those who are farming, versus commercial operations with more complex issues such as selling, distributing or manufacturing.

    Two Pescadero farmers spoke during the meeting urging the board to keep an open mind and discuss agricultural regulations sooner rather than later; particularly as competition is likely to be fierce by the time the state begins issuing permits.

    “We need to be competitive, and timing is everything,” said Steve Oku, a third generation flower grower who noted the industry was suffering under international competition.

    Horsley and Supervisor Dave Pine indicated they’d prefer cultivation rise to the first topics that will be discussed by a stakeholder group and County Counsel John Beiers noted the officials could tailor a policy to local needs.

    Gathering input from the public, stakeholders and other cities will be part of the upcoming study officials are expected to initiate in the coming year. The County Manager’s Office will return in January with a proposal for how the working group’s formation and schedule could unfold.

    “We do think that a countywide approach makes a lot of sense, to bring in all the stakeholders,” said County Manager John Maltbie, who noted his office would be contacting interested cities.

    Foster City, San Mateo, Burlingame and San Bruno have already enacted temporary bans and Half Moon Bay officials are studying the issue with an interest in the potential for greenhouse cultivation.

    The moratorium, as well as any other regulations the board approves, would only cover unincorporated areas of the county. The thought is for the county to steer a regional approach by working with other cities to craft regulations that others could implement as well.

    Proposition 64 gave local jurisdictions a fair amount of authority over whether the marijuana industry becomes big business in their towns. However, there are aspects cities can’t control — it’s now legal for adults 21 years and older to smoke marijuana recreationally in private homes or pot cafes and to grow up to six plants for personal use. The only personal restrictions the county and local cities with moratoriums have implemented are on outdoor grows, meaning people may only grow in locked, indoor facilities.

    The law — which county voters approved by 63 percent, higher than the 59 percent statewide vote — also instructs the state to outline a licensing process for those looking to capitalize on what’s anticipated to be a multi-billion dollar industry.

    So regardless of the county’s ban, people are currently unable to start up a legal recreational marijuana enterprise anywhere in California. State officials indicated they don’t expect to begin issuing required business permits before 2018, but that the temporary ban would allow the county to retain the ability to control or prohibit commercial operations in case that changes, said Beiers, the county’s top attorney.

    “What it does is say we want to take the time to put together a scheme that makes sense,” Beiers said. “And in the off chance the state comes up with a scheme earlier, we’re freezing in place.”


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