The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Wednesday to adopt a policy that would permit regulated cannabis retail sales, cultivation and manufacturing in the county's unincorporated areas, board chair Nathan Fletcher announced.
Voting for approval were Fletcher and Nora Vargas, who co-authored the policy with Fletcher, as well as Supervisors Terra Lawson-Remer and Joel Anderson, who, as supervisor for the 2nd District, represents most of the unincorporated areas to the south. The holdout vote was cast by Jim Desmond, who represents the unincorporated areas in North County in District 5.
"Our county’s new position on cannabis brings us in line with the will of the voters but also takes the extra step toward the future to establish equitable opportunities for economic prosperity and good-paying jobs, right the wrongs of the War on Drugs and establishes safeguards to ensure cannabis is safe, regulated and legal," Fletcher said in a news release sent out by his office after the vote.
Desmond said that now was not the time to make drugs that can cause physical and mental impairment more accessible. He also compared it to "pouring gasoline" on two of the county's major problems, mental illness and homelessness.
"Today, the County Board of Supervisors voted to give people previously arrested or convicted of drug crimes greater opportunities and reduced barriers to own and operate cannabis dispensaries," Desmond said in a statement sent to NBC 7 after the vote. "Encouraging convicted drug criminals to come to San Diego and sell marijuana is a terrible idea. To support such a proposal is to deliberately inflict harm on the unincorporated communities.”
The proposal passed with an amendment included at Anderson's direction that would set aside $500,000 for the San Diego County Sheriff's Office for code enforcement teams that would investigate "unlicensed, illegal dispensaries, labs or related facilities."
A spokesman for Fletcher's office, James Canning, said the funds for enforcement would come from an immediate budget addition.
"As part of the analysis that comes in 180 days, there will be an evaluation of enforcement, and then as determined, additional funding will be worked into the budget accordingly," Canning told NBC 7 Tuesday via email.
Any taxes levied on the cannabis industry anywhere in the county would first need to be drafted by the county, possibly with the aid of a cannabis taxation consultant, and then placed on a ballot for voter approval.
Fletcher's office said in the news release that final regulations and ordinances would be crafted -- and would be shaped in part by community input -- during the next six months, then passed pending the approval of the board of supervisors.
Fletcher's office said that will the final regulations would include an emphasis on the following elements:
- Put social equity at the center of the cannabis permitting program
- Expand agricultural, farming, retail, manufacturing business
- Create opportunities for people with past cannabis convictions and from communities impacted by the War on Drugs to apply for permits
- Create good-paying jobs through labor peace agreements
- No more unpermitted and potentially unsafe cannabis sales and operations in our communities
- Mandatory distances from schools, places of worship and other places children and families gather
- New code enforcement teams to ensure compliance
Lawson-Remer said reforming county policies on marijuana dispensaries can create jobs and a new stream of revenue.
"We want a well-regulated market that can be held accountable," Lawson-Remer said. "We must shutter illegal cannabis operations and keep the product away from minors, just as we do with alcohol and cigarettes."
The policies are part of Fletcher's Framework for the Future of San Diego County plans, which are intended to prioritize communities and populations in San Diego that have been historically left behind.
"Not only have marginalized communities been disproportionately targeted by the War on Drugs, they have also been locked out of accessing avenues to generational wealth within the cannabis industry,:" said Armand King, the COO of Paving Great Futures, a local nonprofit with the mission of providing work experience programs to "misguided young people'' to help them transform into community leaders.