On Thursday the California legislature unanimously repealed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act’s troublesome March 1 deadline for cities to enact their own cannabis cultivation regulations. Assembly Bill 21 now moves to the Governor Jerry Brown’s desk and, once signed, will become effective immediately. Since acknowledging the bill’s drafting error, 40 percent of the state has either enacted cultivation bans or have bans pending. Although the authors of MMRSA repeatedly declared that the March 1 deadline was included mistakenly in their haste to pass the act in an eleventh-hour vote, 138 cities have chosen to impose outright bans on cannabis cultivation ahead of the erroneous deadline, with 75 more cities having introduced legislation to ban.
In addition, 11 counties have enacted bans, while nine more have bans pending, including regions where cultivation has been a staple of the economy for decades. The bans include limits on both indoor and outdoor cultivation, with some areas voting to limit all forms of growing cannabis. Some jurisdictions, however, are taking a more reasoned approach.
In Sonoma County, renowned as much for its cannabis as its vineyards, more than 200 stakeholders turned out to a Town Hall meeting on Monday to discuss ideas for the local regulation of cannabis. Organized by the county’s Medical Marijuana Ad Hoc Committee, chaired by Supervisors Efren Carrillo and Susan Gorin, the meeting opened with an announcement that the county was working to pass an urgency ordinance that would temporarily cement current law, due to pressure to act by March 1 or else default to the state’s guidelines.
The standing-room turnout was unprecedented for the county of around 500,000, just north of San Francisco. About 30 additional chairs were brought in to accommodate the crowd. Close to 40 audience members took their turn at the podium reading prepared statements, including two prominent cannabis attorneys and a former Sebastopol mayor, while another former Sebastopol mayor, Robert Jacobs, owner of cannabis dispensary Peace in Medicine, had a statement read on his behalf.
Nearly all of the comments were overwhelmingly in support of cannabis and regulations that encourage unlimited licensing, permissive zoning and favor small-scale cultivators. Only one speaker proposed restrictions, stemming from a concern about the potential smell of outdoor gardens.
The most salient issue related to ensuring that small cultivators have a place at the table under the new laws. The vast majority of speakers implored the committee to consider scalable licensing fees. Licensing caps also represented another popular topic. Several speakers requested that no limits be placed on the number of licenses the county permits.
Another issue of import to the stakeholders was the distribution requirement. While cultivators have delivered their product directly to dispensaries since 1996, the new regulations will quash this relationship, mandating a distributor, or “middleman,” for all cannabis sales.
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