The legalization of cannabis for medicinal and now recreational use is crashing across the country like a bong-water tsunami. That means herb is in the news lately—a lot.
Here in California, some of that news is not good.
Assembly Bill 243—part of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA), which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October—is causing many cities to clamp down on cannabis businesses. While the bill contains a lot of good, it has a problem: The MMRSA requires local governments to develop regulations for the cultivation and delivery of medical cannabis by March 1. Otherwise, the authority is relinquished to the state. Not wanting to give up that authority, dozens of cities around the state have been enacting all-out bans, denying their patients convenient access to prescribed medications.
This is unfortunate, especially since the provision was never meant to be included in the final legislation.
“It was never our intention to place such a short timeline on local lawmakers,” said Democratic Assemblyman Jim Wood, one of the bill’s proponents, in a news release. “The current deadline gives jurisdictions just 65 more days to consult stakeholders, learn about the industry, and write good policy; that is not nearly enough time.”
Wood is now one of the sponsors of Assembly Bill 21, which is currently in committee but is expected to pass and be signed into law without issue. AB 21 strikes the March 1 deadline, allowing local jurisdictions to regulate and enact their own laws at their own pace. “We have widespread support for this fix, including bi-partisan support from both houses, stakeholders and the governor’s office. I am hoping that AB 21 will be on the governor’s desk before the end of the month, and local lawmakers will give this complicated issue the time it deserves,” said Wood.
Despite the impending fix, the League of California Cities is recommending mass hysteria. Because, you know, caution.
“In an abundance of caution, we have been advising our member cities to enact cultivation ordinances—in this case, a ban—to make sure they preserve their regulatory authority whether the cleanup bill goes through or not,” said Tim Cromartie, the legislative representative for the League of California Cities, to the Los Angeles Times. “A ban is the quickest and cleanest way.”
So how has that affected the Coachella Valley? While some of our valley cities have been working toward their own marijuana regulations diligently for years, others believed the hype and have reacted with fear and rejection.
Palm Springs, being one of the more progressive areas in the valley, has historically been at the forefront of the cannabis movement. The city recently approved a sixth dispensary permit, and council members have said they’d be open to increasing this number in the future as public need and opinion dictate. Recent City Council meetings have also included the discussion of permitting for commercial grows, edible production and extract production. The council members made it clear they want to be prepared to reap the financial rewards of legalization of recreational use statewide—which most people believe is inevitable, perhaps as soon as this year’s election.
Cathedral City is following the example set by Palm Springs, and has issued several permits in recent months. Indicative of the hurdles involved with this emerging industry, the first dispensary in Cathedral City opened its doors in October, more than a year after the council approved the permit allowing them to operate in the city.
If Palm Springs is the tortoise in this race—carefully planning next steps and moving along at an organic pace—cash-strapped Desert Hot Springs is surely the hare: DHS wants to be a mecca of marijuana production and cultivation. It is the first city in the state to approve massive industrial-grow operations, including a recently approved 380,000-square-foot facility that will generate an estimated $3.8 million in annual tax revenues for the city. Grows of this magnitude are expected to be a rarity in the wake of AB 243’s canopy limit of 10,000 square feet for most facilities.
While Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs are working in anticipation of recreational legalization and the revenue streams that will represent, Rancho Mirage has dug its heels in like a child being dragged to the dentist. However, the city’s resistance to the green rush predates the panic caused by AB 243. The city even has a program to reimburse cannabis patients $25 per month for transportation to buy their cannabis elsewhere. It bears noting that no one has taken them up on the offer since the program’s inception. It’s doubtful any cannabis businesses of any kind will be operating in Rancho Mirage anytime soon, regardless of any state legislation.
In January, Palm Desert looked like it would pass an all-out ban on cannabis cultivation and distribution. Then, after hearing from several residents at the Jan. 14 meeting, the council changed the language to allow delivery services to operate in the city. This is great news for Palm Desert cannabis patients who are unable to travel easily.
Indian Wells doubled down on its rejection of cannabis in January, adding delivery and cultivation to its existing ban on dispensaries in the city.
La Quinta has a similar ban in place, but formed an ad hoc committee in December to examine allowing delivery services to operate in the city.
Indio has had a ban on dispensaries in place since 2007, and recently expanded that ban to cultivation. Because, you know, Indio has a reputation to uphold. The City Council is, however, considering regulations for delivery services to operate there.
Coachella recently broke from its long-time ban on all marijuana businesses by approving cultivation in areas of the city that are zoned for auto-wrecking. The approval is seen as a fairly cynical way for the city to reap the tax benefits of the cash crop, and nothing more, because the ban on delivery and storefront dispensaries remains.
AB 243 was meant to stabilize the cannabis industry in California, yet it ended up severely handicapping the cannabis movement with its errant March 1 deadline. Hopefully cities will be as willing to enact meaningful, well-planned regulation once the threat of that deadline has been removed by AB 21.