LA County leaders to begin talks on regulating legal marijuana sales

With legal marijuana sales set to begin in California in less than a year, Los Angeles County leaders will introduce a motion Tuesday to start the process of crafting a set of regulations to protect public safety and to encourage a sustainable and potentially multi-billion-dollar cannabis industry.

The Board of Supervisors plans to instruct more than a dozen county offices, including the sheriff’s and fire departments as well as regional planning and public health officials, to nail down every detail of how to enforce the cultivation, transportation, distribution, processing, manufacturing, testing, retail sale, and delivery of medical and recreational cannabis. The goal is to create and pass an ordinance well in advance of Jan. 1 2018, when recreational marijuana becomes legal to sell.

“The county’s regulations should prioritize the protection of public safety and health as well as the quality of life in our communities,” noted a nine page motion that will be introduced by Supervisors Janice Hahn and Sheila Kuehl.

“Should the county fail to regulate, it could open the door to a number of negative impacts: illegal sales or use of hazardous materials in the manufacturing process,” the motion said. “It is critical that our zoning regulations promote equity in availability and siting while not placing an undue burden on anyone unincorporated community in the county.”

The unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County encompass more than 2,600 square miles and include communities within Gorman, Topanga, Altadena and West Carson among others. About 1.5 million residents live in unincorporated Los Angeles county.

“This is a significant step in that it is a necessary one toward creating a huge new framework that will govern exactly how legalized cannabis will be regulated in L.A. County,” said Hahn spokeswoman Liz Odendahl in a statement. “Our first and foremost concern is that we need to be able to ensure that the cannabis people purchase is safe to consume.”

She said cities throughout California already have enacted ordinances that govern where marijuana plants can be grown and processed, tested and sold. Hahn’s priority, Odendahl added, is to make sure that the unincorporated areas of L.A. County benefit from similar ordinances.

Proposition 64, also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, sailed to victory after voters approved it in the November election. The act allows adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana or 8 grams of concentrated cannabis and grow up to six plants per home and takes effect on Jan. 1. 2018. Provisions within the act also prohibit smoking or consuming marijuana in any “public places” or while driving and possession on school grounds. The passage of Proposition 64 followed an action in 2015 by Gov. Jerry Brown, who enacted the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, a trio of bills regulating California’s medical marijuana industry at the state level. The formal state licensing process also is expected to begin on Jan. 1, 2018.

Last year, Los Angeles county supervisors considered using taxes generated by recreational marijuana to help fund supportive services for the homeless. During those discussions, they learned that a 5 to 10 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana could generate between $78 million and $130 million annually for the county.

Meanwhile, Supervisor Kathryn Barger also will introduce a motion Tuesday that extends a ban on the cultivation, manufacturing and retail sales of medical marijuana in Los Angeles County’s unincorporated areas. The current ban is set to expire in June.