leaders explore path to cannabis policy
By BEVERLY BARELA
March 23, 2017
Merced County Board of Supervisors this week weighed in
on the direction they feel the county should take in light
of the state’s legalization of marijuana by a 56 percent
vote in the Nov. 2016 election.
Locally, 51.48 percent of Merced County voters supported
legalization, and 48.52 percent opposed it.
During Tuesday's regular meeting, County Executive Officer
Jim Brown listed the supervisors’ concerns as follows:
Conflicting state and federal laws, public safety, health,
land use, and social services. He explained that the county
might need to engage outside assistance in addressing the
Brown said, "No one is saying, ‘Let’s go
down this road.’ This is a complicated issue. This
is an issue that’s going to take a lot of time. The
impacts cross the whole organization. We want to better
understand the issues surrounding it."
Board Chairman Daron McDaniel agreed with the summary, but
added that he would like to ascertain "the full financial
cost of doing business," and "look at the tax
structure to offset our costs."
Supervisor Lloyd Pareira asked, "If a company wanted
to test for THC levels as a private business, is a lab to
test it a viable business?"
Supervisor Jerry O’Banion wanted to make sure "any
contract with anyone comes through the full Board for approval
He also said, "The sheriff should be in on this."
Chairman McDaniel proposed a meeting "right away"
with the supervisors and the mayor and city manager of each
city in the county to "find out where they’re
During the meeting, David McPherson, cannabis compliance
director for HdL Companies, a consulting firm representing
400 local governments in California, presented a power point
entitled "Cannabis Policy Workshop."
During an interview with the Times, McPherson said, "The
state is focusing on trying to regulate the industry. The
Legislature is trying to address what’s happening
in California, and then there is Proposition 64 addressing
the recreational world and what that means. All the local
agencies are trying to identify how to take care of the
marijuana issues. There needs to be some guidance for California,
and the counties are trying to figure out what their role
is and how to get a grasp on it."
He continued, "Merced County’s administration
asked the Board of Supervisors to provide guidance and direction.
My Power Point was designed to help provide direction. The
question is what do the supervisors want to allow in the
community, and what does that mean?"
Describing the current law in California, McPherson said,
"Prop. 64 allows an individual to be able to grow six
cannabis plants indoors. You don’t have to have a
doctor’s recommendation in order to be able to consume
it. It’s legal to consume it and have it in your possession
as long as you’re not doing it in public. If you walk
down your sidewalk smoking a joint, now it’s unlawful.
It is illegal to consume it in public."
He continued, "The county will have to do legal regulation
on recreational marijuana, but they can’t ban the
growing of six plants indoors and consumption indoors. An
individual can possess 28.5 grams and 8 grams of product
for recreational use. Currently, the county allows the growing
of 12 plants on one property for medical purposes.
They have a ban on outdoor grows." Comparing the laws
on the medical marijuana side with the laws on the recreational
marijuana side, he said, "A medical dispensary, if
it has a local license, can get a state license when the
time comes. The law says you can’t get a state license
unless you show proof you have a local license. But under
Prop. 64, for recreational marijuana, the authors said the
state does not have to verify if there is a local license,
they just have to verify if there is a ban in place. If
there is no ban in place on the recreational side, the state
could issue a local license without asking the locals for
permission. That means the local agencies need to create
a ban on everything they don’t want, and the only
thing they can’t ban is six plants indoors for recreational
He explained, "The county knows there will be a lot
of illegal activity and is wanting direction from the supervisors
as to whether or not they want to explore options. Even
with a ban, people will still do things unlawfully and the
county would have to deal with unregulated illegal grows,
health issues, calls for service for complaints, public
consumption and other illegal activities. They are trying
to be cautious about their approach."
He exclaimed, "In another agency I’m dealing
with, they’ve discovered that if they don’t
regulate anything and have to deal with the unregulated
businesses, it’ll cost them $3 million in services!
There’s a cost of services, regardless of what you
do. How do you deal with that when you have no funding mechanism?
So you can charge a fee for the regulated businesses and
charge a tax, and then you’ll have revenue to deal
with the issues because you have a funding source."
Before CEO Brown’s statement of the direction the
Supervisors would like to explore, there was an opportunity
for discussion and for public comment.
On the subject of taxes, District 4 Supervisor Lloyd Pareira
said that when he was attending a conference in Washington,
DC, he was talking to a past supervisor of a county in Colorado,
and she told him that taxes don’t compensate the county
for the increase in costs due to the
social problems recreational marijuana brings.
At the meeting, Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke exclaimed,
"I don’t want it [exploration of recreational
marijuana regulation]! For years, we’ve had the medical
marijuana ordinance, and more home invasions, murders and
thefts. We’re dealing with organized crime because
of the sales of it. Recently, we had a shoot-out in the
middle of the afternoon over a marijuana grow."
At the meeting, a public hearing conducted on the proposed
revised Planada Community Plan was continued to the March
28 Board of Supervisors meeting.
Mark Hendrickson, the county's economic development director,
explained, "The county is updating the Planada Community
Plan, a specific plan consistent with the county’s
General Plan. We do these community plans in our larger
unincorporated communities. As a part of
this, the county has undertaken a significant effort to
engage the community so as to develop zoning and land uses
for Planada into the year 2035."
He continued, "Staff made a presentation at the public
hearing, but we had received correspondence on March 20
and staff needed to analyze the comments made, so next Tuesday,
March 28, the Supervisors will consider the Planada Community
Plan along with its associated environmental document."
He added, "The county adopted its Housing Element last
year, and the local governments have to have adequate land
set aside to meet the affordable housing goals of the state."
Francisco Nunez, project manager of Real Estate Development
with Self-Help Enterprises, spoke. Gesturing toward the
center of the map of Planada displayed, he explained that
there is a single family residential developer who is ready
During an interview with the Times, Hendrickson explained,
"One goal of the Housing Element was to re-zone 48.7
acres in the County, and since we were in the middle of
a community plan update, Self-Help Enterprises proposed
an affordable housing project to bring to the community
of Planada. The future development would be single family
residences, and the target audience would be those who meet
the State’s income guidelines for affordable housing."
Marisol Aguilar, staff attorney with California Rural Legal
Assistance, expressed how pleased she was that the proposed
Planada Community Plan addressed residents’ concerns
in that it allowed for sidewalks for improved pedestrian
safety, more park space for recreation, and a mix of zoning
and housing to suit every need. She was also happy that
the EIR addressed railroad crossing improvements, and asked
that that be included in the Community Plan.
Hendrickson concluded, "One goal is to increase walkability,
and the Community Plan contemplates sidewalk improvements
and roadway improvements throughout Planada. If the Board
approves the document on March 28, those types of improvements
we hope would be effectuated over time."