5 cannabis measures heading to November ballot in El Dorado County

Mountain Democrat

After Proposition 64 passed in California two years ago, El Dorado County voters will have the chance to take a stand on cannabis once again this fall. Five cannabis regulation measures will head to the ballot this November, after a 5-0 approval at Tuesday’s El Dorado County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Supervisors John Hidahl, Brian Veerkamp, Michael Ranalli and Sue Novasel approved adding all five measures to the ballot, but there was some nuance to District 2 Supervisor Shiva Frentzen’s vote. Frentzen did not support measures related to recreational use, saying she believed the negative impacts of commercializing recreational cannabis would outweigh the benefits of allowing it.

Illegal grows have persisted countywide, county Deputy Chief Administration Officer Creighton Avila said. Looking at how other counties are handling the problem, he cited a Stanislaus County report: that in order to effectively ban cannabis, it would cost taxpayers in excess of $3 million.

“There’s a cost to a regulated market but there’s still a cost to an unregulated market — if you want to enforce it,” Avila said.

The county has a ban on medical or recreational commercial licenses until Dec. 12, 2019, though there are some exceptions, according to the county website.

County residents will vote on the following, according to the meeting’s agenda:

• Creating a general tax on cannabis, with specific rates set for outdoor cultivation, indoor cultivation, dispensary sales, retail sales and other uses. The tax would involve a permitting process with public feedback, as well as an enforcement program with fines set for illegal commercial activity. This measure must pass in order for any or all the others to pass, according to Breann Moebius, the county’s deputy counsel.

• Allowing outdoor cultivation of medicinal cannabis for commercial purposes, including grows in greenhouses.

• Allowing outdoor cultivation of recreational cannabis for commercial purposes, including grows in greenhouses.

• Allowing indoor commercial operations such as sales, cultivation or distribution for medicinal cannabis.

• Allowing indoor commercial operations such as sales, cultivation or distribution for recreational cannabis.

All measures related to operations or cultivation will have limits on where these activities can take place, how much cannabis they can handle and how big the grows can be. Environmental and residential security will factor into these limitations, the agenda states.

The measures’ full text is available on the county website.

If the ballot measures are passed this fall, the county will have to abide by state laws relating to cannabis, such as Prop. 64 and the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, otherwise known as MMRSA. There are federal caveats as well: cannabis is considered a Schedule 1 drug and is illegal to possess under federal law, Moebius said.

The National Conference of State Legislatures, reports medicinal cannabis is prohibited in four states as of June 2018, while 46 allow medicinal use of cannabis-related products or have pending laws that will allow it. Nine states and the District of Columbia allow recreational cannabis, or have pending legislation to allow it.

These ballot measures come after a series of 28 public meetings related to cannabis, Avila said Tuesday. Ranalli and Novasel formed an ad hoc cannabis committee in December 2017, meeting with stakeholders and the public to gather input on potential regulations. Last month the committee met to discuss which ballot measures would come forward for county approval. The committee was dissolved along with the vote moving ballot measures forward.

Though the meetings began with “a broad range of seemingly insurmountable issues,” Ranalli said, discussions were respectful among various viewpoints. Conversations included the impact of cannabis on public safety, the environment, education and the local economy, he said.

“This has not come easy,” Novasel said. “There’s been a lot of discussion and a lot of staff work in particular on making sure that what we are going to be bringing in November … makes sense for everybody.”

Tuesday’s discussion brought comments from both sides of the topic. Kelly Chuisano, owner of Pure Life Collective in Diamond Springs, said even if the measures fail, they’ll still be a good road map for the county government — and prospective cannabis operations — moving forward.

“I don’t want to be in a community doing recreational sales if the whole community doesn’t want it,” he said.

Patricia Hunsinger, another member of the ad hoc committee, said she’s against marijuana but appreciates the group’s efforts to bring the measures forward.

“I really feel … all five measures must be on the ballot because the people need to be heard,” Hunsinger said. ” I’m hoping marijuana just disappears, but that’s just a pipe dream.”

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