San Luis Obispo County has been moving toward regulating commercial cannabis activities since early 2016, but on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors appeared uninterested in learning how to best regulate California’s top crop.
After several previous board meetings, community outreach sessions, Planning Commission meetings, industry-sponsored educational events and a wealth of information available from state agencies and other jurisdictions, significant policy directions are being made by the three-member majority on the Board of Supervisors based on personal whims and a poor understanding of state laws.
Tuesday’s board meeting was meant to be a review of an ordinance drafted by the Planning Commission over the course of several workshops. Before this process, the public weighed in on three draft ordinances released this year.
At no time during this long process did board Chairman John Peschong indicate that he opposed cannabis-infused products, nor that he opposed regulated dispensaries. Yet at the eleventh hour, the board majority advocated an extreme position contrary to public opinion and the current course of regulation in California.
Chairman Peschong was unfamiliar with the regulatory framework the state has been designing since the summer of 2015. These laws were tailored to suit a decades-old industry in the largest state in the nation, based upon existing state law, input from governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders and a study of the supply chain and how best to regulate it.
Lobbyists from the League of California Cities, the Regional Council for Rural California, as well as the California Police Chiefs Association and the Peace Officers Research Association of California have been insisting on a distributor model. It was felt the cannabis industry required a heavily regulated control point responsible for the levying of taxes and the laboratory testing of all material.
For the last two years, the industry has been shifting to add a distributor function, but Peschong’s flippant attitude on Tuesday was “Why don’t we just get rid of the middleman?”
No county government should attempt to undo two years of work by state agencies and an industry begging to be regulated.
But that’s exactly what Peschong did — he made references to a trip to Colorado, where he heard of the difficulties associated with legalization there, but did not acknowledge work done by the state of California to address these very problems. For no clear reason, he mentioned that (barely) neighboring Kings County bans commercial cannabis activity, but the voters in that county did not pass Proposition 64 while the voters here overwhelmingly did. Elsewhere on the Central Coast, the Lompoc City Council voted Tuesday on a comprehensive adult use and medical ordinance, Santa Barbara County is publishing an official Economic Impact Report and Monterey County is moving rapidly forward with a robust cannabis industry.
The board took several votes on policies that would increase pollution and traffic while increasing the potential for crime. During a conversation on transitioning currently registered cultivators to fully licensed status — a process that could take several months — the board didn’t appear concerned that they voted for unregulated commercial activities for several months. The failure to allow all cultivators to self-distribute or process their cannabis on their farms will threaten the commercial viability of operators, will result in unnecessary trips transporting raw cannabis, and make taxes more difficult to collect. A decentralized retail model based on deliveries from farms would also increase vehicle trips and likely take years to implement, only to be back to the same level of access to medical cannabis that residents currently have — cannabis could be federally legal by then.
Why are we being so directly critical of Chairman Peschong and this board?
Because it doesn’t have to be this way. In addition to 30 states with medical cannabis and eight states with fully legal cannabis, 29 other nations have federally legal medical cannabis and Canada will be the first G-8 country to fully legalize next year.
The vibrant Central Coast is a center for agriculture, higher education, tourism, wellness and entrepreneurship. It should play a significant role in this global industry. But it will miss the train if more time is wasted, policies are personalized and we continue to shadow box prohibitionist views of a minority.
Marie Roth is president of the San Luis Obispo County Cannabis Association.