Like it or not, the time has come for local governments to make decisions about how to manage legalized marijuana.
In many cases, discussions are already under way. The Lompoc City Council last week assigned an ad hoc committee to begin exploring marijuana-related issues, including the city’s official recognition of the liberalizing of marijuana laws, and having rules in place to better manage its cultivation and use.
Some Lompoc residents see marijuana as a future cash crop, and are urging city officials to take full advantage of an economic opportunity just begging to be developed.
Lompoc officials are proceeding with caution, with the full understanding that marijuana growing and sales will not do much immediately to resolve Lompoc’s more pressing budget problems.
Others recall that it was less than a year ago the city staff proposed an ordinance that was far more restrictive than the ideas put forth last week. The passage of time and the gathering of more information seems to be softening some of the more hard-line attitudes about marijuana.
Local law enforcement tends to take a less sanguine view of easing marijuana laws, and for good reason — police officers deal first-hand with narcotics problems, and for many it’s difficult to separate one form of being under the influence from the others.
A good place to start any discussions leading to changing local ordinances on marijuana growing and use might be the Betteravia Government Complex in Santa Maria this Friday beginning at 2 p.m., as the county sponsors a public meeting at which citizens can ask questions and make suggestions.
The county Board of Supervisors also has an ad hoc committee dealing with marijuana issues, including the future of cannabis business licensing, land-use permitting and fees and taxation. These are nuts-and-bolts issues with any new business.
The outcome of ad hoc committee deliberations and subsequent policy proposals should deal with all the commercial, medical and private marijuana operation ramifications. But it’s fairly evident that big changes are coming.
The Board of Supervisors temporarily banned all activities related to recreational marijuana, both cultivating and using, to give staff time to develop permanent rules for the licensing and permitting, and taxing and fee-setting schedules for recreational use of cannabis in unincorporated areas. The county also currently has an ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation for medical purposes, with limited exceptions, in unincorporated areas.
But cities will be setting their own rules, and the timeline for both the county and local jurisdictions is restricted. The county hopes to have an impact report ready by September and a final proposal for consideration by the board in November. The goal is to have rules in place by early next year.
The door to such deliberations was opened when California voters passed Proposition 64 last November legalizing marijuana for recreational use. State officials expect to begin issuing licenses to establish businesses such as cannabis clubs and pot shops by a Jan. 1 deadline.
In other words, the time for making local decisions about marijuana growing, sales and use is at hand. What once seemed an unlikely public policy change has occurred, and governments at all levels need to make important policy decisions.
So, now is the time to make your feelings and beliefs known, if for no other reason than to help elected representatives make good decisions in the interests of county and local governments. That’s true of all public policy decision-making.
Elected leaders tend not to make good decisions in a vacuum.