Cannabis Business Tax in Sonoma County Up for Vote
Measure A, the only countywide measure on the upcoming ballot, will be going to the Sonoma County ballots on Tuesday, March 7. If passed, the measure will implement a tax that could generate an estimated $6.3 million annually from cannabis businesses in the area. However, organizations such as the Sonoma County Growers Alliance have announced their opposition, stating that growers will be required to pay inflated rates per square foot if it passes. In a statement on Measure A, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors noted that not only will it have control over taxing based on square footage, but it also noted which types of cannabis business will be taxed, “The tax would be paid by medical and non-medical cannabis businesses that operate in the unincorporated areas of Sonoma County,” the statement read. “The tax may apply to any operator in the supply chain (cultivators, nurseries, distributors, transporters, manufacturers, testing labs and dispensaries), but the county can choose which operator types to tax.” If the measure fails, the county will cease plans to open up cannabis business permit applications, which is scheduled to begin on July 1.
Berkeley City Council Approves Medical Cannabis Cultivation
The Berkeley City Council voted in late January to begin regulating medical cannabis cultivation within the city. During the council discussion, Councilmember Sophie Hahn expressed her worries that expanding cultivation may negatively effecting the youth in the area, “I am concerned about moving forward with another layer of expansion, of cultivation, dispensaries or anything, without some significant attention towards how we are going to move this towards an adult population and out of our schools,” she stated. In response, Councilmember Kriss Worthington noted that the will of the people is just as important as protecting local children, “[People] want the business to be regulated,” Worthington said. “People are cultivating cannabis in the city of Berkeley today. If that’s a shock to you, I’m sorry, but it’s been true for decades and it’s absolutely true today.” The council’s decision will not take effect until the city has finalized an amendment to its current zoning ordinance, and it will follow rules established by the Planning Commission regarding applicant criteria.
Colorado NORML Holds Lobby Day at the Capitol
NORML will be holding its annual Lobby Day at the state’s Capitol on Tuesday, March 7. In the past, only Denver NORML has participated, but this year Colorado NORML and Southern Colorado NORML will also be joining. The event will feature education on the new Drug Testing Reform Coalition formed by NORML. The Drug Testing Reform Coalition is a group focused on ending drug testing in the workplace. Attendees of the Lobby Day will gain information about home-growing, learn how to support of cannabis bills that are currently being introduced and may enjoy a complimentary breakfast. “There is strength in numbers, and we hope to make our voices heard loudly on March 7,” explained Jordan Person, Executive Director of Denver NORML. “We will also be offering a Lobby Day training session the Sunday before our Lobby Day, on the fifth.” There’s no better opportunity to advocate for cannabis than this, through getting out into the world and making your voices heard. Visit www.denvernorml.org to sign up and get more information.
Senate Approves Bill to Make Online Black Market Cannabis Sales Illegal in CO
Illegal and black market cannabis businesses have not completely disappeared from Colorado in spite of legalization, and evidence of this fact can be seen through the existence of ads on Craigslist for illegal cannabis. However, Colorado is looking to clamp down on these ads with Senate Bill 15, which would outlaw any online or print cannabis ads that are not for licensed cannabis businesses. “We live in a very different era of communication in which the lawmakers in Colorado have shut down a very popular way to buy products on the black market,” stated Ashley Riley, CEO of Cannabiz Calendar. “We legalized this plant and are taking extra precautions to eliminate recreational cannabis sold outside licensed dispensaries and grow facilities, [which] is the responsible thing to do.” The bill passed unanimously in the Senate in early February. If approved by the House of Representatives and the governor, the state will introduce stricter regulations for cannabis advertising, as well as require more security for businesses that have licenses.
Costa Mesa City Council Extends Temporary Ban on Recreational Cannabis
The Costa Mesa City Council briefly discussed and approved an urgency ordinance in a meeting on February 7 to extend its ban on recreational cannabis. Originally, the city council approved a temporary 45-day cannabis ban on January 3 that would have expired on February 17, however, under close investigation councilmembers decided to extend the ban for another 10 1/2 months in order to have more time to mull over regulations. “If the City Council extends this urgency ordinance, only limited marijuana cultivation, as allowed under state law, and marijuana-related businesses allowed under Measure X, will be permitted,” the meeting agenda stated in its conclusion. “These temporary restrictions will provide time for the city to study these issues and for the city council to enact long-term policies and regulations.” Costa Mesa voters approved Measure X in the most recent election, which dedicates a certain area north of the 405 freeway specifically to medical cannabis businesses. Hopefully, when the end of the year arrives, the city of Costa Mesa will be ready to finalize regulations for recreational cannabis as well.
L.A. County Expands Cannabis Ban in Unincorporated Areas
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors recently voted to extend the temporary ban placed upon the sales, distribution, manufacturing and distribution of medical and recreational cannabis. This ban only applies to the unincorporated areas of the county. More than 65 percent of Los Angeles County, or 2,653.5 square miles, consists of unincorporated regions. The ban will remain in place until a structured system is decided upon. Members of the board acknowledged the inevitable, rapid changes that the state has been met with after the approval of Proposition 64. While the unanimously approved ban could have been set as permanent, the board instead looks to establish a proper framework first in order for the industry to thrive and operate properly. “Normalizing it and regulating it is in more in our interest,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl confirmed. The extension will go on for one more year while the state of California prepares its own regulations for the recreational sale of cannabis. As board supervisor Kathryn Barger, stated, “We cannot ban it, the voters have decided.”
Kern County Supervisors Seek Tougher Regulations for “Spice”
Almost two years ago, Kern County Supervisors established strict regulations over the synthetic drug meant to replicate cannabis, called “spice.” Now they are continuing this mission further, asking health officials to find ways to enforce the existing rules. In September 2015, the county passed an ordinance giving health officials authority to revoke health permits of any facility found selling spice. Spice is comprised of both plant material and chemical additives, so it is not uncommon for those under its influence to experience negative side effects such as hallucinations, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, kidney damage and failure and more. Officials have noted that the use of spice has risen, so they have decided to take further action. In January alone, the county received seven new complaints about the drug. Health officials will continue to inspect local stores for any presence of the substance. “If something poses an imminent health risk, we can immediately close the facility,” explained Assistant Public Health Director Brynn Carrigan. “And, we feel that spice poses an imminent health risk, as well.”
Hanford City Council Considers Medical Cannabis Tax
Medical cannabis has been a hot topic in Hanford since the owner of the Purple Heart Patient Center wrote a letter to the Hanford City Council about his interest in opening up an indoor medical cannabis cultivation and processing business in the city. Since then, city officials have gone great lengths to better understand what benefits and downfalls are involved with regulating such businesses. During a February 21 council meeting, although the city’s agenda set out to discuss “An agreement for the reimbursement of costs associated with the preparation of an ordinance and permits for Commercial Cannabis Activities in the City of Hanford,” no decision regarding the tax was made. Instead, Community Development Director of Hanford, Darlene Mata, explained that local tax increases must be approved by voters. “On February 21, there was discussion about the tax. It was just a discussion item, and the city council essentially was told that a general tax had to be on a general election and a special tax would have a special election.” The next general election is not being held until November 2018, so if Hanford would like to get the tax implemented sooner, the tax would have to benefit a specific purpose, which in this case would be public safety.
Paso Robles Makes Preparations for Recreational Cannabis
The Paso Robles City Council voted unanimously on February 21 to tighten restrictions on smoking cannabis and cigarettes in public. A public hearing on the ordinance was first introduced to the council in early February. While the Council Agenda Report outlined the reasons for wanting to restrict tobacco smoking laws in public areas, it also had a large focus on concerns over public consumption of cannabis following the passing of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) this past November. The concern from officials like Robert Burton, Chief of Police, who also introduced the ordinance, was that Prop. 64, also known as AUMA, didn’t go into enough detail in its prohibition of public consumption of cannabis. “AUMA states that it shall not be construed to permit smoking or ingesting marijuana in any public place or in places where smoking tobacco is prohibited, but it does not define ‘public places.’” The agenda continued by explaining that Paso Robles is currently the only city in San Luis Obispo County with loose smoking restrictions. The ordinance will now “amend Chapter 9.41 of the municipal code to expand certain smoking restrictions and expressly prohibit smoking marijuana in public places.”
New Law Protects Landlords’ Rights to Allow or Prohibit Medical Cannabis
Senate Bill 72 has been approved and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, officially establishing it as law. The new law gives landlords the right to prohibit the cultivation of medical cannabis on their property. Depending on how housing companies and landlords react to the newly instated law, caregivers and patients who home grow cannabis may soon find it difficult to rent and live in certain spaces. This new law also amends the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA) by giving private property owners the choice to decide whether or not cultivation and use of cannabis will be permitted. As Attorney General Bill Schuette explained, the MMMA originally, “prohibit[ed] the smoking of marihuana in ‘any public place,’ which includes the public areas of food service establishments, hotels, motels, and apartment buildings.” Schuette continued to note that giving landlords the right to prohibit medical cannabis on their property is not a violation of the MMMA.
Lansing City Council Passes Medical Cannabis Ordinance
The city of Lansing has approved a new ordinance regarding home growers who cultivate medical cannabis. The ordinance will monitor cultivation activity by requiring caregivers and patients to register their address with the city if their electricity exceeds 3,500 kilowatt hours. Failure to register one’s home could result in a civil infraction. The ordinance has already been met with some opposition from those who believe it is too extreme. However, city officials have reassured home growers that the registry will be protected, as such information relates to the right of privacy of medical information. The city created the ordinance to ensure the safety of neighbors and to minimize complaints. “We know that it is legal under state law for medical marijuana patients and caregivers to grow marijuana in their home, but this activity must be done in a safe manner that does not create a nuisance or put their neighbors in harm’s way,” Mayor Bernero said in a release. “Protecting the quality of life in our neighborhoods is vitally important. With the new tools this ordinance provides, we can make sure that any hazards or neighborhood nuisances caused by home growing of marijuana can be addressed and resolved.”
Regulatory Medical Cannabis Petition Circulates in Vista
The residents of Vista may soon vote on whether or not medical cannabis dispensaries will be permitted to operate within city limits. Currently, dispensaries are forbidden by city regulations but a local cannabis advocacy group, Vistans for Better Safety & Services, has drafted an initiative that aims to change those rules. According to the petition website, the initiative will be “ . . . setting restrictions, protocol and prohibitions guiding permitted operation of medical cannabis.” If passed, dispensaries would be limited to one facility for every 10,000 residents in Vista. The measure would also restrict dispensaries from operating near schools, parks and residences. According to the website of Vistans for Better Safety & Services, “The initiative will create a new tax on legal medical marijuana dispensaries to generate city dollars for crime prevention and essential city services.” In order to be considered by the city council, the petition needs more than 5,600 signatures by registered voters. With enough signatures, the city council could immediately approve the measure or choose to leave the decision to the voters in a special election.
Imperial Beach Enacts Temporary Recreational Cannabis Moratorium
The Imperial Beach City Council placed an emergency measure to temporarily ban recreational cultivation, consumption, delivery, distribution and sale of cannabis. Effective immediately after the decision was passed unanimously, city officials stated that they need more time to study cannabis-related business operations before it is allowed. While the moratorium does not ban future dispensaries outright, it does place any current activity on hold. City Attorney Jennifer Lyon explained, “It’s prudent to at least put in a moratorium at this point so that it’s clear that the law right now is: Nothing’s allowed until the city has taken the time to approve appropriate regulations.” Imperial Beach plans to hold off on establishing regulations while the state of California takes the entire calendar year, if not longer, to implement regulations on recreational cannabis. California will not begin issuing permits any earlier than January of 2018. Over the next year, cities like Imperial Beach are also taking time to solidify their own policies regarding cannabis businesses and social consumption.
Two Cannabis Retail Stores to Open in Fife Under Special Circumstances
The city of Fife has an ordinance that bans all sales of cannabis within city limits. However, due to unique circumstances, the city will soon be home to two legal retail stores. One store is owned by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and is located on tribal property, so it will not be affected by the current ban. The tribe signed a compact in January 2015 that allowed it to open up a cannabis testing lab, and the compact was later expanded to include the allowance of tribal cannabis sales as well. The other store recently settled a lawsuit with the city of Fife under the agreement that the owner would pay $35,000 toward the city’s attorney fees. In a Fife City Council meeting, a few councilmembers felt that both of these instances “forced their hand” on the issue to overrule the city’s ban. However, support from Councilmember Dee-Dee Gethers commented that they should try to work with the new stores, “Fife is a small town, and we have some reservations about policing and the crime. Now that other cities like ours and even bigger haven’t experienced that, so we’re here. Let’s move forward.” Both retail stores have plans to open sometime this month.
King County Studies Local Impacts of Cannabis
Through a research grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Seattle and King County will soon begin working on a study to learn about what kind of effects local cannabis policies have on consumers. The study will attempt to answer questions about how restrictions or bans on cannabis sales affect the use of cannabis by teens, as well as investigating how cannabis use affects the overall health of consumers. The principal investigator of the study, Dr. Julia Dilley, is prepared to discover useful information that can help improve the understanding of cannabis. “Public Health–Seattle & King County team members bring unique public health legal expertise to our study,” Dilley said. “This expertise, coupled with their experience in building a policy surveillance system to track policies over time, is critical to understanding the role that local governments can play in keeping their communities healthy. As a result, our study will help to specifically identify ‘best practices’ for policies that regulate marijuana to protect youth and public safety.”
Hemp-Infused Alcoholic Beverages Approved for Oregon
While cannabis-infused alcoholic beverages have been prohibited in Oregon, an exception has been made for hemp-infused alcoholic beverages. The exception was announced in early February, which goes into greater detail about the decision by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC). In order for a hemp-infused beverage to be allowed, its ingredients must be in compliance with the regulations in the April 2000 Hemp Policy by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Regulations on the beverage formula were outlined by the OLCC. “Finished product cannot contain a controlled substance. Hemp components must be tested in the U.S. for controlled substances each time it is imported and results must be maintained on the premises for inspections. A detailed description of the method of analysis used by the U.S. lab to test for controlled substance must be maintained at the premises.” Another requirement is that the beverages must also have TTB-approved labels. Companies that are interested in manufacturing hemp-infused alcoholic beverages must first prove to the OLCC that their formula and labels are in TTB compliant. Once they receive approval, the companies may legally begin manufacturing, importing and selling hemp-infused alcoholic drinks.
OLCC Does Not Endorse Controversial THC Blood Limit for Drivers
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) has made a recommendation against a fixed THC blood limit for drivers. The OLCC’s decision was revealed in its “2015 House Bill 3400 DUII Legislative Report,” which was released on December 30, 2016. “Due to restrictions on cannabis research and limited data, it is difficult to make definitive statements about the risk of THC-intoxicated driving.” The report continues to state how evidence shows that not only are attitudes about driving under the influence of cannabis more relaxed than those pertaining to drinking and driving, but there is also a lower chance of car accidents for those driving under the effects of THC than the risk of driving under the influence of alcohol. Further, the OLCC explains that there isn’t much evidence of how many nanograms of THC in one’s bloodstream would consistently equate to intoxication. Considering that THC remains present in a person’s bloodstream for weeks after they have consumed cannabis, the OLCC’s report suggests evidence that will protect many cannabis consumers from being falsely accused of driving while feeling the effects of THC.
MARCH UNIVERSAL News Nuggets
Recreational Cannabis is Officially Legal in Maine
After a long, grueling battle between cannabis advocates and the opposition, Question 1 has gone into effect in the state of Maine. Passed by a narrow margin of voters in Maine back in November 2016, adults can now legally possess cannabis in the state. “The portion of the law that allows persons over 21 years to grow six mature plants and possess 2.5 ounces became effective on January 30, 2017,” the Maine State Legislature website reports. “A 17-member special legislative committee, co-chaired by Sen. Roger Katz and Rep. Teresa Pierce, has been formed to address the complex issues surrounding full implementation of the law.” Obtaining recreational cannabis in Maine has been quite a battle for advocates. In addition to Maine Gov. Paul LePage openly opposing Question 1 from its inception, opponents fought for a recount once the voting margin was reported to be 50.26 percent of people voting “yes” versus 49.74 percent voting against the bill. Ultimately, the recount effort was defeated. While Question 1 does allow for social cannabis clubs, the state will consult its special committee to develop rules and regulations for potential businesses before that becomes a reality.
Swedish Agency Approves Medical Cannabis for Two Patients
The Läkemedelsverket or Medical Product Agency (MPA) of Sweden has made a notable decision in approving its first two patients for medical cannabis. Both patients suffer from severe back injuries and are the first with such a condition to be allowed to medicate with cannabis in the country. Currently, cannabis is regarded as an illegal substance by the Swedish government, with medical cannabis only allowed on a rare, case-by-case basis. “Every single license application, whether it’s about cannabis preparations or not, go through a special assessment process, i.e. every case is assessed individually and there is no general view of license applications for cannabis plant parts,” according to the MPA. This decision marks an important step forward in the progression of accepting cannabis as a legitimate means of medical treatment in Sweden. The cannabis given to the patients will be supplied by the same Dutch company that the Swedish government uses to perform research. (Kiara Manns)