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District 1 Update

Medicinal Marijuana Regulation Is a Question of Smart Policy
By Jack Duran
District 1 Supervisor

Having grown up the son of a Deputy Sheriff and serving the public as a Deputy Attorney General with the State Department of Justice, as a board member of the Roseville Joint Union High School District and now your County Supervisor, I think of myself as in tune with laws and policies that protect the public.  In 1996, the people of California passed the Compassionate Care Act (CCA), a law that permits the use of medicinal marijuana under limited circumstances.  After the CCA’s passage the California Department of Justice issued CCA guidance which included licensure, and implemented the concepts of dispensaries and collectives and plant number allocations for CCA users.  However, no regulations concerning local land use or permissible zoning were included in the CCA or DOJ guidance, leaving jurisdictions to develop them on their own.

Over the last twenty plus years cities and counties have been all over the map concerning marijuana policy, some permitted dispensaries and collectives, others banned them, some banned outdoor grows, others banned indoor grows.  Although Placer County established a ban on cultivation and dispensaries, this was not effectively enforced and the problem has sky-rocketed out of control with an estimated 4,000 + pot grows existing county wide.  Residents are inundated with the smell and sight of plants and safety concerns, along with negative environmental impacts to water and wildlife from illegal pesticide use.  Perhaps the worst result is that unregulated cultivation has led to a proliferation of black-market marijuana in our schools.  Junior high and high school aged youth report it is far easier for them to obtain marijuana than alcohol.

In 2013, the US Attorney’s office issued guidance concerning its view on federal marijuana prohibitions, juxtaposed with the passage of CCA’s by states. The guidance specifically focused on abuse of medicinal marijuana in eight specific areas, none of which included personal use under a state that had passed a CCA.  Although marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug, the federal government’s position has been hands off, unless one of the eight areas was transgressed. (A schedule 1 is a drug with no currently accepted medical use and high potential for abuse.)

In 2014, Congress did the unthinkable; it defunded the United States Drug Enforcement Agency from enforcing federal marijuana laws in any state that had passed a CCA.  In sum, in those states, including California, that have a CCA on the books, federal funds cannot be used for federal enforcement purposes.  Local Congressman, Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, signed onto that bill, which was carried over into federal spending for fiscal year 2015-16.  Currently, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency is contemplating rescheduling marijuana at the request of Congress.  A decision on re-scheduling is anticipated this summer. 

In October 2015, the California legislature enacted three separate bills, Assembly bills 266 and 243, and Senate bill 643, collectively called the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA).  The Act provides the backbone of the regulatory framework for cultivation, manufacturing, dispensation and licensure of medicinal marijuana in California.  Complete regulations are presently in development by the state legislature and are anticipated within twelve to eighteen months.

In December 2015, the Placer County Board of Supervisors instructed staff to develop regulatory options, including developing a comprehensive ordinance modeling the same comprehensive framework created under MMRSA.  This was done in reaction to the growing complaints due to a lack of a county ordinance and with the use of tools made available to us to clean up this situation with the state’s implementation of MMRSA. The Board also instructed Staff to seek community input on this issue.  Staff described the challenges from 20 years of unregulated medical marijuana cultivation and explained the opportunities provided to local jurisdictions to clean up this mess under this new legislation.  Staff conducted two town hall style meetings in Auburn and Rocklin, made presentations to 13 Municipal Advisory Councils, and conducted polling on specific questions.   The polling results were overwhelmingly positive towards regulation of cultivation and manufacturing activities.

I have personally met with county law enforcement, the District Attorney, the City of Roseville, the Roseville Chamber, my Municipal Advisory Council and attended two large meetings in Auburn and Rocklin. After having also spoken with people who oppose medicinal marijuana and medicinal marijuana growers, advocates, manufacturers and patients, including the elderly and veterans, I have come to the conclusion that medicinal marijuana is not going to go away anytime soon and we need to do something about it.  
While it pains me to say this, the state’s decriminalization of medicinal marijuana has left zero teeth for law enforcement.  Comprehensive regulation is looking to be the BEST alternative that the county has to add side boards to an industry that is currently acting like the 1840’s Wild West.

For the record, I am opposed to recreational use of marijuana in the county and will vote against it if placed on the November ballot.  My biggest concern with this issue is patient access for those who truly rely on medicinal marijuana to help their legitimate physical ailments. I will also honor the will of the people of the State of California and those in District 1 who supported this issue in 1996.  These two concerns must be balanced with ensuring our communities are protected from the ills that come with a thriving unregulated black market.  

Comprehensive regulation will bring this illegal market into the light and we will know who is cultivating responsibly.  Regulations can help completely eliminate or reduce medicinal grows that exceed the county’s proposed plant number or square footage requirements in county urban areas.  Regulation will ferret out unlicensed growers and manufacturers who will be shut down and have plants destroyed.  Dangerous honey oil and butter labs, currently in many residential and environmentally sensitive areas, will be forced into safer, commercial areas or shut down entirely.  Environmental damage can be minimized with strict control of pesticide and water usage, and most importantly with the proven “track and trace” technology being utilized in Washington and Colorado. This can significantly reduce the proliferation of marijuana getting into the hands of our youth. 
Although other counties have failed in their efforts to deal with this problem, it is not due to regulation, but poor planning, a lack of appropriate funding and cooperation of regulation efforts, lack of cooperation between agencies or the lack of leadership by county elected officials.  Having worked to improve collaboration within county departments and within the county as a whole, and having seen the level of competence in our county regulatory framework, I believe if any county is able to make regulation work to protect our citizens, it is Placer County.

In closing, regardless, of whether you support medical marijuana or find it morally or politically objectionable, it is legal in the state under the Compassionate Care Act, but unfortunately entirely unregulated within the county.  I believe comprehensive regulation of medicinal marijuana can work to make a bad, lawless situation more palatable to all county residents.

I invite your opinion on this important county policy subject, please send any comments to jduran@placer.ca.gov and to my District Director, Cristina Rivera, at crivera@placer.ca.gov. 


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