Sensible Cannabis Policies are Good for Yolo County

It is time for the Yolo County Board of Supervisors to take the next step forward on sensible cannabis regulation. Residents of Yolo County have consistently voted in favor of legalization of cannabis. In the November 2016 election, more than 60% of Yolo County voters said YES to Proposition 64: California Marijuana Legalization Initiative. The proposition passed in all five Yolo County Supervisor Districts. The voters of District 2, which I represent, voted 70% YES on Proposition 64. As far back as 1996, 59% of Yolo County voters voted YES on the Compassionate Use Act.

I believe we need public engagement with the residents of Yolo County to collectively discern the best path and implementation of cannabis policies that reflect the views of people of the county. On August 1, the Board of Supervisors will receive an update on our interim medical cannabis cultivation ordinance, state regulatory processes, city activities, and fee structure and provide direction on future of this program. Based on prior Board direction, the agenda item will also include an option to entirely curtail cannabis cultivation in Yolo County.

Since early 2016, we have permitted a limited number of commercial medicinal cannabis cultivation sites through an interim ordinance. In October 2016, the Board of Supervisors chose to cease additional cultivation permitting beyond the initial eligible sites. While this allowed the County time to pilot our ordinance and learn about areas that need adjusting, it left many pending and potential cultivation sites unlicensed with no path to legalization. With few exceptions, the current cultivation program is succeeding with about 70 permits issued so far. The emerging legal cannabis industry appears willing and ready to serve as fully engaged members of our community. So far, permitted cultivation sites have paid nearly $3 million in permit fees. They are adhering to our permitting requirements, providing jobs, and supporting local non-profits. They welcome a taxation model that will generate revenue for the county to address unfunded needs, such as public health education, expanded public safety to address unpermitted grow sites, or other community investment needs such as roads, affordable housing or preschool. They are supporting a growing economy of vendors, including agricultural equipment suppliers, construction contractors, and a variety of professional services. As with other industries, the Board of Supervisors needs to provide regulatory predictability so these businesses can plan their investments.

My recent visit to a permitted medicinal cannabis cultivation site in Yolo County illustrated how reasonable cannabis policies can benefit the environment, economy and people of Yolo County. This farm is a modern, state-of-the-art agricultural enterprise. Surrounded by an established walnut orchard, the one-acre site is about three miles away from one of our cities, a healthy distance from any neighbors’ structures, completely out of view from the nearby county road, and fully enclosed within a fence and locked gate. The entry road has an unobtrusive security camera and the farm has 24-hour unarmed security personnel on staff. The cannabis farm employs 17 year-round employees and adds an additional 80 jobs during the harvest and drying cycles. There is a highly sophisticated water filtration system with drip irrigation. All soil additives are carefully labeled and regulated by the Yolo County Agriculture Commissioner. This farm and nearly 70 others are paying Yolo County permit fees, are inspected regularly for pesticide usage and runoff, and are participating in a new “track-and-trace” program monitoring cannabis products from farm to end user, throughout the supply chain.

This is a far cry from the unsafe conditions our multi-disciplinary Yolo County code enforcement team of the Cannabis Task Force encounters when they are called to respond to an unlicensed and unpermitted cannabis grow site. The picture at these sites typically includes scattered empty containers of illegal pesticides, poorly tended watch dogs, trash and household items mingled with food and children’s toys, and randomly placed cannabis plants. Various estimates of the number of unpermitted cannabis cultivation locations range from 500 to 800 in Yolo County alone.

It takes resources to clean up and regulate these unlicensed locations. Our Yolo County Cannabis Task Force includes dedicated staff from the District Attorney, Sheriff, Agriculture Department, Environmental Health, County Counsel, and Community Services Department. If we do not secure funding for code compliance from legal operations, we will need to devote scarce county General Fund resources for cleanup and enforcement for hundreds of unpermitted cannabis growing locations throughout Yolo County.

The state and local cannabis policy environment continues to evolve. I believe Yolo County should actively re-engage in establishing a sensible cannabis regulatory framework in order to reflect the will of our residents, improve public safety, improve safe access and effective use of medicinal cannabis, and capture the economic benefits of this emerging industry.

It makes sense that local governments and communities continue to learn and adjust. We have some work to do together to advance sensible cannabis policies. I still have many questions, such as what refinements are needed for our land use policies? How do we best assure that cannabis operations help local food farmers continue to thrive? Are cannabis nurseries a good fit for Yolo County? Should we encourage value-add manufacturing and processing facilities to keep the economic benefit in Yolo County? How do we integrate Yolo County’s policies with our four cities’ cannabis policies? How can we prevent access to cannabis by children and assure public safety?

I look forward to hearing from residents and discussing with my colleagues how we can best support a healthy cannabis industry in Yolo County that meets the needs of our community and reduces perceived and real impacts. A sensible approach here will advance the Yolo County strategic goals -- Thriving Residents, Safe Communities, Sustainable Environment, Flourishing Agriculture and Operational Excellence.

For additional information about state and local cannabis policies, click here to read my blog post. As always, I welcome your thoughts and can be reached at Questions and comments can be shared with board members at or in person at the Board Meeting at 9:00 AM on August 1, 2017 at 625 Court St. Room 204, Woodland, CA.