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Marin County waits to decide if sale of marijuana will be legalized


Despite California’s passage of Proposition 64, which legalized the usage of recreational marijuana for adults above the age of 21, the entirety of the bill and its ramifications will not be considered by the Marin County Board of Supervisors until 2018.

Marin County’s cannabis webpage has an announcement that states, “The County of Marin does not accept, approve, license, or authorize commercial sale, commercial cultivation, or manufacturing of any cannabis or cannabis related byproducts for non-medical use at the present time.

Although possession is legal at a state level, a local jurisdiction or a county can ban the recreational sale of cannabis within its limits.

“Under both medical and recreational laws the state will only grant licences if local cities and counties will give approval for that type of use,” said Tom Lai, Assistant Director of Marin’s Community Development Agency. “In other words, there is a lot of local control.”

After Governor Jerry Brown signed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act of 2015, which regulated the taxation, transportation and licensing of medical marijuana, Lai also worked with the Board of Supervisors to create a license to allow the county to grant permits to medical cannabis dispensaries. The license was approved last December and limits the number of new dispensary licenses the county can grant to four—two in urbanized areas along Highway 101, and two in rural West Marin, according to Lai.

The board is currently reviewing eleven different dispensary applications, and will grant the licenses in March or April.

“It sets up this competitive process because we have more demand than supply,” Lai said. “The board wants to grant the license to the best locations and operators. In a way it’s providing for more local options.”

Local jurisdictions control how much of Proposition 64 they want to implement. A county can either accept the bill in its current form and follow the state’s set regulations, create an ordinance that prevents medical dispensaries from also selling recreational cannabis, or regulate certain aspects of the bill such as having sale front permits or banning cultivation of recreational marijuana.

Counties can also benefit from the additional 15 percent tax collected for the sale of recreational marijuana as mandated by the proposition.

“Some jurisdictions welcome business and opportunity because they look at potential self tax windfall that they could get, but I suspect that most of Marin will not look favorably at opening up storefront and commercial areas for recreational marijuana,” Lai said. “It really depends on what each city and town council wants to do.”

The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act has created a safer, more regulated system for all parts of the medical cannabis business which shows in their motto: “seed to sale.”

Map of medical marijuana dispensaries in Marin. Image courtesy of Marin Convention and Visitors Bureau

This regulation was needed due to the fact that cannabis production is often done illegally in California, resulting in both environmental and health consequences, according to Lai.

“People are willing to go out into national forests or public land and start cultivating the plant which has environmental consequences such as erosion and draining water from creeks,” Lai said. “There are also problems with people using private homes as grow houses, because of potential fire hazards. These are health, safety, and environmental considerations that the state wants to get a handle on and give local counties and cities a say on that matter.”

The legalization of recreational marijuana in Marin County for adults over 21 could impact the curriculum of classes such as Social Issues at Redwood that have units on drugs and alcohol, according to Jon Hirsch, a Social Issues teacher at Redwood.  Due to the fact that students may be able to use the drug when they are 21, teachers may need to alter the way they teach the class about recreational marijuana.

“It’s been a topic of conversation to a limited extent among the Social Issues teachers in general, addressing what is going to be inevitably at least a rise in availability if not a rise of consumption in youth,” said Hirsch.

Hirsch has been teaching Social Issues for 12 years and has learned to be flexible in adjusting his course based on changes in drug availability.

“We need to make sure that we’re addressing student needs not just what we are comfortable teaching,” Hirsch said. “When prescription medications started really hitting the scene (opiates, ox icon, vicodin, etc.) that was something we had to start addressing because it just wasn’t part of the drug landscape before in the same way, and that’s what we’re having to do now [with marijuana].”

Other than medical marijuana dispensaries, all cannabis businesses are currently prohibited in the unincorporated parts of Marin County. Starting in January, Lai will be meeting with the Board of Supervisors to discuss how Proposition 64 should be handled.

“With Proposition 64 passing, we now have clarity on what the state wants to do and what the citizens want to do, so it’s prime time for us to talk to the board,” said Lai.

There will also be public workshops where residents can voice their opinion as well.

“We want to engage the public in the discussion about how the Board of Supervisors wants the county to handle these new laws,” Lai said.


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Alicia Vargelis, Author