The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Wednesday voted 4-1 to approve zoning changes that will allow five existing medical marijuana businesses to expand their facilities as well as begin selling recreational cannabis products.
Located in unincorporated communities, the five facilities will now be able to sell edibles, drinkable marijuana products and branded merchandise, expand by 10,000 square feet and transfer business licenses among existing permit holders.
Previously classified as non-profit medical marijuana collectives, the five facilities are:
- Outliers Collective, 8157 Wing Ave., El Cajon;
- Ramona Cannabis Co., 736 Montecito Way, Ramona;
- Releaf Meds, 618 Pine St., Ramona;
- Olive Tree Wellness Center/JAXX Cannabis, 1210 Olive St., Ramona; and
- San Diego Natural/OutCo, 8530 Nelson Way, Escondido
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Supervisors also approved a process by which the five dispensaries can voluntarily comply with community design requirements -- with assistance from the county Planning and Development Services Department -- and use groundwater, along with municipal sources, for cultivation.
In June, the board voted to allow the five facilities to operate past a previous "sunset date" of April 14, 2022.
Four years ago, supervisors voted to ban cannabis businesses in the county's unincorporated region.
Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher described the process as "multi-year journey."
He added that Wednesday's action was about "taking five folks who have been jerked around for years and years," and resolving their status.
But Supervisor Jim Desmond, who voted against the zoning changes, said bigger facilities equaled bigger risk.
As someone who represents unincorporated areas, Desmond said, he's "not hearing outcry for more dispensaries."
Desmond also expressed concerns about the facilities expanding without meeting certain community design guidelines, and how that seemed unfair to other types of businesses.
"We're opening up a Pandora's box here," he said. "I don't want to see us ramrod through here a new policy."
During an hour-long public hearing, supervisors heard from both industry representatives and those opposed to any further liberalization of county marijuana policy.
Greg McCluskey of the Ramona Cannabis Company said allowing the facilities to expand will improve access for medical marijuana patients, especially those with cancer.
McCluskey added his business is committed to social equity and supporting women and minorities in their business.
Ren Bowden, of Jaxx Cannabis, said his company is "very proud of our work. Our loyal patients are as diverse as the community that surrounds us."
Bowden said his businesses will work with the Ramona Community Planning Group, and is also involved with Paving Great Futures, a nonprofit organization that works with underserved or marginalized residents.
Becky Rapp, a Ramona Community Planning Group member, said she couldn't believe the county would change the rules for just five dispensaries. No other business has been granted this type of privilege, she said, adding the board's actions "remove all oversight and accountability" by planning groups.
K.C. Strang, an official with the San Marcos Prevention Coalition, said it's a contradiction for the county to ban flavored tobacco but allow the sale of cannabis edibles.
"We are concerned that this decision will not be based on our public's health," he added.
County resident Mark Wilcox questioned whether it was worth spending county government time and resources to allow marijuana facilities to expand.
"Let's seek solutions for the mental health crisis in our county," he added.
One woman told supervisors that edibles are unregulated, with no caps on THC amounts, which "is a recipe for disaster." She added that limitations on the amount of THC in edible and drinkable products are needed.
Supervisors will also consider a social equity program for the cannabis industry in unincorporated communities, although that may not be ready for approval until next year.
In August, the board unanimously approved increased law enforcement of illegal marijuana shops in unincorporated areas.