Board to Approve Steps for Approving Cannabis Stores, Grows

RIVERSIDE (CNS) - Riverside County supervisors are expected next week to adopt the specific processes by which marijuana growers and sellers can obtain permits to do business in unincorporated communities. 

The Transportation & Land Management Agency, along with the Department of Code Enforcement and Office of County Counsel, will present a new county policy -- ``B-9'' -- as well as a revised ordinance, No. 671, that newly establishes fees for the operation of ``commercial cannabis activities,'' according to documents posted to the Board of Supervisors' policy agenda Tuesday. In a 3-2 vote in October, the board approved a series of concepts for the implementation of a comprehensive cannabis regulatory framework aimed at providing pathways for prospective marijuana dispensary operators and cultivators to set up shop. 

The framework was ironed out in the ensuing three months and Tuesday's hearing will give the board an opportunity to review what agencies have come up, including proposed fee structures. In the current year, the county intends to approve 50 conditional use permits and development agreements for cultivators, and 19 permits and agreements for retailers. Each agreement will be subject to board approval.``The county wants to conditionally permit commercial cannabis activities in the unincorporated area, but not at the expense of the surrounding residents and communities,'' according to policy B-9. ``Permitting of commercial cannabis activities shall be done in a manner to avoid putting the fundamental values of the county in jeopardy.''The policy attempts to balance the allowance of commercial cannabis activities against the needs of residents who may be directly impacted by the potential crime, water consumption, smoke, smell and environmental degradation linked with marijuana grows and stores, according to the narrative. 

Operations will only be permitted in designated areas identified by the board in October.TLMA staff estimated that first and second year costs to the county for processing permits, carrying out on-site inspections and law enforcement details will run about $3.15 million. To recoup expenses, ``public benefit fees'' have been proposed. The fees would be based on the size of each operation. 

In the case of an indoor cultivator using between 2,500 and 5,000 square feet, the fee would run $4.50 per square foot. A dispensary operator using 2,500 square feet or less would owe the county $16 per square foot. A manufacturer of cannabis products with over 3,000 square feet dedicated to the business would be required to pay $4.50 per square foot, according to TLMA documents. The fees would be collected annually, separate and distinct from sales tax receipts. 

According to officials, applicants for conditional use permits, which would have a 10-year life span and cost $6,000 up front, could better their chances of earning the county's approval by demonstrating how they might be able to make public benefit contributions beyond paying fees, including guaranteeing quality-of-life improvements in whatever location they're seeking to conduct business.No development agreements are pending before the board, but templates submitted for the meeting indicated that each applicant would be held to standards regarding what they can do with a property -- and the county's exemption from any liability arising from what transpires there. 

A provision in each agreement would also underscore that the federal government still recognizes marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, and if there are moves by the feds to stop commercial cannabis activities, an agreement will be ``deemed terminated.''All entities seeking to begin operations in the county would first need to procure permits from the California Department of Food & Agriculture's CalCannabis Licensing, Compliance & Enforcement Division, as required under the Medicinal & Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation & Safety Act. 

The act recognizes that localities may continue to prohibit commercial grows, as well as storefront and mobile marijuana dispensaries, as they see fit. However, personal cultivation of up to 24 plants for recreational and medical purposes, as defined under voter-approved Proposition 64, cannot be outlawed. 

The cities of Banning, Desert Hot Springs, Jurupa Valley, Moreno Valley, Palm Desert and Perris all now have processes in place for permitting commercial cannabis operations.

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