Riverside Board of Supervisors Ok’s Commercial Pot

From the looks of it, commercial marijuana is finally headed to unincorporated Riverside County.

On Oct. 23, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve a tentative agreement that would allow for adult-use sales and commercial cultivation in the county’s unincorporated areas — albeit with some exceptions.

Under the impending framework, a maximum of 19 dispensaries would be allowed starting in 2019. Commercial grows would be capped at 50. All businesses must receive state and local permits after approval from the Board of Supervisors.

The Board agreed to exempt three designated areas from commercial marijuana development: residential-agricultural (R-A), residential-rural (R-R) and controlled development (W-2) which include the Anza Valley, Sage, and unincorporated Winchester. Residents in these communities had voiced opposition to commercial pot development, in part because law enforcement’s presence in these regions is so sparse to begin with.

A few other highlights:

• The county will continue to prohibit marijuana delivery services in unincorporated areas.

• The new rules do not legalize outdoor commercial marijuana grows. Cultivation is limited to greenhouses and other indoor facilities.

• Dispensaries may not operate within 100 feet of a school, park, or daycare center. Dispensaries will also face setback requirements of 25-100 feet.

• No two dispensaries will be permitted to operate on the same block.

Supervisors Kevin Jeffries, V. Manuel Perez, and Chuck Washington voted in favor of the new rules. Marion Ashley and John Tavaglione, who are both retiring, were opposed.

"I believe this is taking our society in the wrong direction,'' said Ashley (City News Service). "I do not want Riverside County to become like Colorado.''

Ashley cited the high number of car accidents since marijuana was legalized in that state.

Jeffries too expressed some concerns, but was ultimately enticed by the promise of $10 million to $17 million in annual revenue. He did, however, warn that that the agreements could be considered de facto taxation and that a court could therefore overturn the entire framework, requiring a public vote.

Though marijuana advocates are pleased to see Riverside supervisors pursuing an end to local prohibition, many say they’re unhappy with the terms. Gem Montes of Inland Empire NORML said the proposed framework and its many caveats were too cumbersome for cannabis businesses, even describing it as "convoluted.''

The Office of County Counsel and the county’s Transportation and Land Management Agency have been asked to return with a firm set of written guidelines for agreements, fees, and other aspects of the new rules within 60-90 days.