On November 9, 2016, the state of California voted and passed Proposition 64 to legalize recreational marijuana. Medical marijuana is already legal in many states, however, this was one of the first propositions for recreational use.
According to guidelines of the new law, people are allowed to grow cannabis (marijuana) for personal use, but not sell it. A private grower is allowed six plants at a time only for personal use. The plants must also be grown and kept on private property. The legal limit one can carry on their person is no more than 28.5 grams.
Currently, Imperial Valley officials are working on what can be done with this potential crop. The forums have been organized to discuss the possibilities of growing industrial hemp (the non-psychoactive version of marijuana), the repercussions of recreational usage, and the overall future of the effects of the plant in the Valley.
The supervisors are considering what role the County will have in marijuana sales in the Valley, how it will be taxed, who will be doing the sales, and what will be in the best interest for the people. Sales licenses are not being given out until 2018 for commercial growing and selling.
Some local farmers have suggested industrial hemp may be a part of the seasonal crop rotation. Rick Benson, owner of Brawley’s Benson Farms, pushed for the case of industrial hemp growth in the Valley, stating it takes less water to grow, when burned, is less harmful to the environment, and can easily be rotated out when it comes time to plant seasonal crops. Benson said an Australian company is already interested in sending hemp seed to the Valley to test how it grows.
Other community members at the forum supported medical use within Imperial County. The Valley already has a medical cannabis bank in Calexico used by some individuals. However, all hospitals which use cannabis treatments are outside of this county, with Los Angeles being one of the closer hospital sites.
“I will teach my children that it is for medical use, not for smoking,” said Roman Castro, a Brawley resident who said he has seen what the medical strains can do to help cancer patients.
Carrie Cruz from Westmorland agreed that medical marijuana is needed. She was also interested in possibly going into the business of recreational sales if it is allowed in the Valley.
“I’m curious of what I could do in the industry,” said Cruz. “I’m all for it personally.”
Overall, the community did not seem to have much to say for the case of recreational usage of marijuana.
Despite the show of support from community members present, local law enforcement representatives all stated they would uphold the federal law which declares marijuana illegal to have, use or sell.
Imperial County District Attorney Gilbert Otero said under federal law, marijuana and hemp are still considered illegal despite the state’s ruling to legalize it. Otero also explained even if the board were to allow the growing of marijuana for sale, the farmers would not be able to send either the marijuana or hemp products out of the County. There are four Border Patrol checkpoints at all compass points of the Valley, and they will confiscate the product since it is illegal under federal law, he said.
Undersheriff Fred Miramontes said the Imperial County Sheriff’s office has spoken with agencies in Washington and Colorado, where marijuana has already been legalized, and they were told crime spiked after the legalization in those states.
“We’re not going to turn our backs to it,” said Otero. “Anyone who’s going to make an investment needs to keep in mind, it’s still illegal.”
According to the U.S. Border Patrol, officers will follow federal law over state. Officers will confiscate any marijuana found in a person’s possession, be it for medical or recreational use.
The finalization of County plans will not take place until the end of the year, according to officials. By then, the board of supervisors will have to submit a plan to the state on whether the County will sell recreational marijuana and industrial hemp commercially, or grow it commercially.