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Placer outlines medical marijuana regulation strategy

Permits for cultivation or other commercial activities discussed at workshop
By: Gus Thomson of the Auburn Journal
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Placer County’s effort to develop medical marijuana regulations is moving toward clear rules for growers and their neighbors.

But that also means government will be developing the infrastructure to enforce those new rules.

That was the message from the county at a town hall meeting this week in North Auburn – one of 17 sessions the county is holding around Placer to gain input on developing medical marijuana regulations. That could result in permits being issued for cultivation, transportation, distribution or other medical pot-related activity.

Josh Huntsinger, county agricultural commissioner, mapped out early plans that included establishing setbacks for grows and minimum lot sizes.

Goals include reducing the size of the illicit market and working with legitimate medical marijuana growers to “bring the industry into the daylight.”

“People who  don’t comply need to have the expectation that the hammer will fall,” Huntsinger said.

But Huntsinger admitted that that the county is also dealing with concerns about having enough staff for enforcement and licensing.

“We’re very conscious about making sure we have the staff resources to ensure the industry is accountable,” Huntsinger said.

On the flip side, the county will need enough staff to ensure adequate and timely customer service for businesses that want to comply with new medical marijuana regulations, he said.

The county doesn’t allow medical marijuana dispensaries or commercial grows but has allowed medical marijuana grows for personal use. With passage of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act in October,  the state has approved plans to regulate medical marijuana operations on a statewide basis while leaving room to allow counties and cities to establish their own regulations and enforcement. The Board of Supervisors ordered a public process starting in January to craft local regulations.

Huntsinger said that the timing of the effort dictated that no new regulations would be in place during this year’s outdoor growing season, which ends in the fall.

As well as the agricultural  commissioner, the county’s planning arm is developing rules on where grow operations will be allowed. Supervising Planner George Rosasco said that the county is now looking at a minimum 10-acre parcel size for grows. If a property can’t fit a 200-foot setback, then the grow could be done indoors with a filter system to remove noxious smells that might be offensive to neighbors, he said.

Samuel Berns, an attorney and resident of Placer County, said that it would be completely unrealistic to ban cultivation in Placer County and that growers want to be treated as business people and farmers.

Jonathon Baldwin, another speaker, said regulation will allow growers to run their farms “as if they will be in business tomorrow.”

“You don’t have to be pro-cannabis to be pro-regulation,” he said.

Retired Auburn educator Rad McCord said the county should consider substantial setbacks for pot grows.

“People in the community shouldn’t have to concerned about dogs and smells and the criminal element,” he said.

While the county has no figures on how many growers there are within Placer County boundaries, Deputy CEO Bekki Riggan said that the rough estimate is there are about 4,000.

In response to a question from the audience on how the county will be controlling non-medical use, particularly among children, Riggan said that the evidence is clear that non-medical use is detrimental to children but that there is “zero control” now on where cannabis goes. The state’s plan is to have a tracking system in place from the grow to the dispensary to oversee where marijuana is distributed and sold.

Dr. Robert Oldham, Placer County public health officer, said that the concerns over non-medical use extend to the adult population too. The county is looking at ways to counteract marketing that could be directed toward health concerns, he said.

A representative of the Placer County Sheriff’s Office expressed concern about the move toward regulation, noting that the federal government considers marijuana illegal.

Citing statistics indicating an uptick in impaired driving deaths and a jump in marijuana use among teens in Colorado – where voters approved legalization – Sheriff’s Capt. Wayne Woo said the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t support permitting of dispensaries. He added however that if “something to the contrary” is adopted, the Sheriff’s Office would do its best to enforce county standards.