County Board weighs in on marijuana debate

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

EL CENTRO — The Imperial County Board of Supervisors discussed ramifications of Proposition 64, which will allow the use and sale of recreational marijuana in California starting January 1, 2018, during its regular meeting Tuesday May 16. The board showed hesitancy toward endorsing the recreational use of marijuana but acknowledged that factors from the state level could limit the county’s options.

Each of the board members commented on how the county could move forward in light of the law’s passing. Supervisor Luis Plancarte was not present for the meeting.

Many of the supervisors had previously attended workshops and forums in cities such as Calexico and Brawley, and noted the same set of speakers to be present at each.

“We had a lot of comments. Mostly…. in favor of the county taking the position to authorize and permit the commercial operations related to Prop 64 in Imperial County,” reported Andy Horne, deputy CEO of Natural Resources Development.

“The next step in this process would be to draft an ordinance that would either ban or permit certain activities under Proposition 64,” said Horne. “The personal use and cultivation is something that is allowed by the law and cannot be prohibited by the board, but could be further regulated.”

Horne included the commercial cultivation, retail sale, and transportation of marijuana as topics that the board would need to consider permitting or banning. But any decision would not apply within incorporated cities, except for a county tax.

Supervisors weigh in

While the board offered no official resolution on the matter, each of the supervisors who were present gave their analysis of the situation.

Three of the supervisors explicitly expressed their opposition to the recreational use the plant, and none opposed its use for medicinal purposes, though Supervisor Ray Castillo suggested he didn’t support a medical dispensary opening in the county.

“There is already medical use coming in from dispensaries in L.A. and San Diego,” suggested Castillo. “I don’t see any benefit for us saying yes to something like this.”

Castillo said that any increase in the use of marijuana brought risks.

“When you endorse it, there are consequences to that,” said Castillo. “When accidents happen, when people hurt themselves, or hurt other folks, I don’t want it coming back to me.”

Supervisor Michael Kelley, chairman of the board, referred to his experience as a parole officer in explaining his disapproval of recreational use of the substance.

“Having been Chief Probation Officer for several years, recreational use of marijuana is just another move to hell, and I’ve seen it in my career ruining a lot of individuals and a lot of families,” stated Kelley.

“Medicinal use — that’s another issue that I still need to digest in more detail before I come to a final decision,” Kelley also said.

Likewise, Supervisor John Renison indicated his support only for marijuana’s use in medically necessary cases.

“I do have a problem with recreational use, quite frankly,” said Renison. “That doesn’t mean I can’t change my mind, but medicinal — I have no problem with.”

Supervisor Ryan Kelley, however, focused on what authority the county had to enforce any decisions it made, noting that individual cities would not be affected by a direct ban.

“State law has already made [recreational use and sale] allowable within Imperial County, so we’re talking about local limits,” summarized Kelley.

“I would like us to make those determinations instead of the state of California,” said Kelley, who noted that a lack of decision from the county would result in state statutes to be the only regulations in force.

Kelley also suggested that an allowance by the county to permit the establishment of dispensaries could relieve pressure on the individual cities and allow them the option to ban dispensaries within city limits, while still giving marijuana users access to dispensaries in the unincorporated areas.

Horne suggested investigating whether an ordinance could be passed that only allowed cannabis to be produced and sold in the county for medicinal purposes only.

Public comments

Several of those in attendance of the meeting were able to address the board on the subject, all in favor of opening a dispensary for medical marijuana.

Gary M. of Imperial argued that only one dispensary in the Valley was needed to meet demand, and such a dispensary should be operated by a pharmacist.

“The pharmacist is uniquely positioned to be the medical professional in this whole convoluted discussion,” he said.

But other commentators argued to also be considered as operators of any future dispensaries.

“We would like small businesses to be run by local people, not by pharmaceutical people,” returned Francisco A. He also argued that the revenue from marijuana sales should stay in the community.

One commenter, Josh Barker, noted that a dispensary was needed within Imperial County because marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug, and hence could be confiscated by Federal agents en route to the Valley. In addition to local cultivation and selling, Barker recommended his company to help the county make the transition in other ways.

“A on-demand technology delivery service, that allows the entire county to be serviced discreetly,” said Barker, “that’s the number one thing that needs to happen when we implement these new laws.”

Ralph Collazo of Brawley pointed to job creation and medical benefits as reasons for the establishment of dispensaries. Like the other commenters, Collazo pointed to access of cannabis as a means to reduce the use of drugs like heroine and cocaine within the Valley.

“I just hope in the next year, that if we’re going to say no to Prop 64, that we do set some guidelines so we can get the patients taken care of here,” said Collazo, referring to those in the Valley who use marijuana for medical reasons.

None of the public speakers endorsed the establishment of a dispensary for the use of recreational marijuana.

After hearing from the public, the board decided to postpone any other discussion until all the supervisors could be present.