When It Comes to Marijuana, Common Sense Goes Out the Window
Why is it when it comes to marijuana, way too many politicians tie themselves and their constituents into the most egregious knots? Their eyes cloud over, their minds become befuddled and their facial features dissolve into a morass of overbearing forbearance and perplexed bewilderment.
All this and more was on display at a special Riverside County Board of Supervisors “marijuana workshop” on March 20 where at least two of the Board members were hoping to derail the BOS commitment made in August 2017 to move forward with implementing the provisions of Prop. 64 allowing commercial marijuana businesses.
Why two Board members developed cold feet now after the original commitment was made over a half-year ago may have something to do with that these two Board members, Marion Ashley and John Tavalogne, are not running for re-election and will be ending their careers in public service at the end of 2018.
Although they may not quite qualify as being consumed with reefer madness in their approach to normalizing marijuana use, they are certainly far removed from any attachment to a rational perspective on this issue. No doubt they are dismayed that the voters of California legalized marijuana and even more dismayed that the voters in Riverside County also came down on the side of reason and common sense in voting in favor of allowing the use and commercial cultivation, production and distribution of marijuana.
I doubt if they wanted to end their lengthy years of service and endanger what they see as their legacy of conservative prudence on the Riverside BOS by enacting enabling legislation for commercial marijuana businesses. With this perspective, it is understandable why they wanted to derail the implementation of these regulations and let the new Board members elected in November 2018 to vote in favor of the sin, degradation and moral decay that comes with marijuana use.
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries who had been instrumental in advancing Riverside County’s rational and reasonable patient cultivation ordinance, wanted to move Riverside County towards a tight and regulated commercial marijuana market as he felt it was his obligation to enact the will of the voters when they approved Prop. 64. Supervisor Manual Perez was on the same wavelength and was very supportive of enacting an ordinance that would allow Riverside County residents to obtain marijuana in a strictly regulated environment that would also produce significant tax revenues for the fiscally challenged County.
That left Supervisor Chuck Washington as the key vote in whether the County would be going forward or ending the program. This is where the discussion went off in a direction that was totally unexpected.
Supervisor Washington, fearing the gates of hell would open wide if marijuana was treated like Riverside County’s bustling wine industry, broached the idea of utilizing a Development Agreement instead of the customary tax and regulate system that is the norm just about everywhere else for legalizing the commercial marijuana business. I certainly didn’t and I don’t think the almost over-capacity crowd in attendance at the meeting had the slightest idea what he was talking about.
I am not even sure the Supervisors understood all the ramifications of what a Development Agreement is and how it could be successfully applied to the marijuana industry. So what exactly is a Development Agreement?
A Development Agreement is a voluntary contract between a local jurisdiction and a person who owns or controls property within the jurisdiction, detailing the obligations of both parties and specifying the standards and conditions that will govern development of the property. Although the agreements are voluntary, once made they are binding on the parties and their successors.
So how does that apply to the burgeoning cannabis industry? That is the million dollar question – in fact that is the multi-million dollar question and the answer is no one really knows.
Although Riverside County has used Development Agreements before, it hasn’t happened often and it has never been applied across the board to an entire industry. There are very few examples to serve as a model for what Riverside is attempting to do explaining why it can get very confusing when put in practice.
Rather than a tax and regulate scheme that applies equally to all businesses, a Development Agreement is far more cumbersome and complex as it requires Riverside County to make a separate agreement with each applicant for a marijuana license whether it is for cultivation, manufacture or distribution. There is no such thing as a cookie-cutter Development Agreement. If the County issues 25 cultivation licenses, 35 manufacturing licenses and 40 retail outlets, a separate agreement with each must be created. And the complexity only goes up from there.
A person or business that obtains a Development Agreement pays a fee in exchange for being able to operate a business - in this case cultivate, manufacture or distribute marijuana. What these fees are depends on what the impact to the community will be as the fees are allotted for a “community benefit” of the community impacted by the operation of the business.
Understand these fees are not taxes but are allotted for a “community benefit” to mitigate the negative impacts the business has on the community. What the community benefit would be is decided in each individual agreement based on the extent of the impacts the business has on the community. Depending on the community's needs and the impact of the business, the community benefit could be road improvements or a community health center. Each agreement would make an individual and specific determination of impact and benefit.
The “community benefit” fee, consequently, can vary dramatically depending on the impact the business has on the community it is located in. A cultivation or manufacturing business in the middle of nowhere will have less of an impact on a community then a business in a populated area and hence their community benefit fees can be substantially less.
An advantage of a Development Agreement is that unlike a tax which goes into the general fund of the County, the community benefit fee stays in the local community so it can directly help the community it is in.
Another feature that the BOS repeatedly stressed is that the community benefit fee, unlike a tax, does not require a vote of the people which was estimated to cost $750,000. Elected officials generally love that aspect.
Of course, it will be argued that this community benefit fee is an end-run around a tax which would require a vote. If it looks like a tax, walks like a tax and smells like a tax then it is a tax and bypassing a vote by calling a tax a “community benefit fee” or any other name is forbidden by Prop. 218.
Remember that each Development Agreement is separate and each one is unique to the community in which it is located. If the community benefit is essentially the same in all of them it could be argued, and most assuredly will be argued, that this is a scheme by the BOS to avoid the requirement of Prop. 218 that all taxes be voted on by the people.
On top of that, there is the problem on how to assess the community benefit fee. That would not be too difficult for a cultivation community benefit fee as the fee could be based on the number of square feet under cultivation like $20 per square foot. Of course this means that a cultivator will pay the same fee whether they have a successful harvest or not.
Manufacturing and retail stores are far more problematic. The size of a warehouse or store is not indicative of the amount of product manufactured or sold. Most assuredly it cannot be an excise tax on sales. At the BOS meeting no one seem to know how this could be accomplished either, but the BOS have an unlimited amount of faith that their staff can figure it out.
Another issue is that since the community benefit fee only serves the local community, cash-starved Riverside County won’t see any benefit for its general fund that could use a multi-million dollar infusion that a tax and regulate system would provide and a community benefit fee would not.
The bottom line is that on a 4-1 vote, the BOS decided to go ahead with implementing Prop. 64’s commercial provisions and with a 3-2 vote, decided the way to regulate it was through Development Agreements.
Riverside County has given itself a headache that even marijuana will not relieve. Marijuana consumers and the other good citizens of Riverside County will just have to patiently wait and see if the sky falls. The point of critical importance is that they didn’t end the program and are going where Riverside County has never gone before. If the Development Agreement doesn’t pan out, hopefully the County will still have time to devise a “regulate and tax system” that could be ready for Riverside County voters to decide in November 2018.
Medical Marijuana in the Age of Marijuana Legalization at Moreno Valley MAPP meeting Wed. April 4
Medical marijuana in America today, the opioid crisis, the U.S. Congress and the Trump Administration will be under the erudite scrutiny of William Dolphin, Publications Director for Americans for Safe Access, at the monthly MAPP meeting on Wednesday, April 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the Greenview Medical Clinic in Moreno Valley.
With the inclusion in the Appropriations Bill by the United States Congress of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment forbidding the Dept. of Justice from spending any money enforcing federal marijuana law against medical marijuana providers and patients, the presentation by Mr. Dolphin is both timely and informative.
Mr. Dolphin will be covering ASA’s “States Report” which reviews the status of medical marijuana laws in the 28 states that have enacted legislation allowing for the use of medical marijuana and how patients in the 8 states and Washington DC have been impacted by the legalization of marijuana in their states.
Of special interest will be his explanation of the “End Pain, Not Lives” campaign that is working to establish cannabis as an alternative to opiates to combat that crisis. With President Trump reigniting the War on Drugs and threatening to execute drug dealers, this reasoned and well-researched report provides a humane and effective alternative.
Mr. Dolphin will conclude his presentation with information on ASA’s May 2018 National Unity Conference in Washington DC which brings medical marijuana researchers, elected officials, patients and activists together to learn and strategize to protect and further the rights of medical marijuana patients. The conference features a day at the Capitol where conference attendees will meet in the offices of their congressional representatives and senators to discuss these issues.
The Moreno Valley MAPP meeting beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 4 will be held at Greenview Medical Clinic, 22275 Alessandro Blvd, Moreno Valley CA 92553. Milk, punch and cookies will be served plus bring a guest and you and your guest will both receive a cool little pocket pipe.
Palm Springs New MJ Ordinance Allows New Cultivation, Manufacturing and Dispensaries at PS MAPP meet Saturday, April 7 at 12 noon
Under discussion will be a proposed big new project being proposed for North Palm Springs and astonishingly, the new Palm Springs ordinance which allows the city to license more dispensaries all with on-site consumption lounges. Plus the latest news from near and afar.
The Palm Springs MAPP meeting begins at 12 noon on Saturday, April 7 and is held at Crystal Fantasy, 268 N. Palm Canyon, across the street from the Hyatt Regency in downtown Palm Springs 92262. Milk, punch and cookies will be served plus bring a guest and you and your guest will both receive a cool little pocket pipe.
Enough is Enough – We Are Not Second Class Citizens
Dealing with Snub by SB Supervisor James Ramos at Joshua Tree MAPP meet Saturday, April 7 at 3 p.m.
Local MAPP folks are not taking no as answer from their request to meet with San Bernardino Supervisor James Ramos to discuss the County's refusal to allow commercial marijuana businesses. Ramos, it seems, is too busy running for the state assembly to be bothered with meeting with his constituents who are not in the 40th AD. San Bernardino County Democratic Party Vice-Chair Ron Cohen will regale us with local SB County politics and how to deal with Supervisor Ramos's cold-shoulder. Plus the latest news from near and far.
The Joshua Tree MAPP meeting begins at 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 7 and is held at the fabled Beatnik Lounge, 61597 Twenty-Nine Palms Hwy., Joshua Tree 92252. Milk, punch and cookies will be served plus bring a guest and you both will receive a cool pocket pipe.
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