As adult-use cannabis legalization continues to be developed in California, one county is taking a unique approach.


While California local governments weed out the regulation of recreational cannabis by the state’s start of licensing Jan. 1, Placer County wants to roll out a medical research facility instead.

Two weeks after voters in the state made pot legal under Proposition 64 last November, Placer banned commercial use in the unincorporated area. Therefore, the local jurisdiction only allows for personal cultivation of six plants on 50 square feet indoors.

Nonetheless, the Placer County Board of Supervisors took a unique approach to the recreational marijuana laws in California when they agreed to look into developing a medical research facility to explore the pros and cons of marijuana.

Board Chairwoman Jennifer Montgomery explained the policy workgroup tasked with overseeing the plan envisions the potential of a research lab in an academic setting.

Montgomery said she would have supported commercial entities to gain the tax revenue like Sonoma County, but will compromise with an agreeable solution board to appease her board.

“We should regulate it because it’s happening anyway,” she said.

Placer County voted against Proposition 64, with 96,228 opting out and 89,333 in favor. How county voters cast ballots may say a lot about their receptiveness to adult pot use, California State Association of Counties Senior Legislative Representative Cara Martinson said.

“We’re still in the beginning phases even though it’s been one year since Prop 64 passed,” Martinson said.

First, the state needed to merge recreational- and medicinal-use laws, resulting in California Senate Bill 94 enacted in June.

Still, HDL Companies’ Matt Eaton, a retired veteran police officer who worked on Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, noted California is “light years ahead” of the trail-blazing state that legalized it six years ago.

“No one realized or believed marijuana laws were going to pass, even though it was trending toward it,” Eaton said of Colorado. The state received 4,000 applications for licenses within a few weeks.

California represents the largest marijuana industry in the world valued at $7 billion. It will need to conduct a massive educational campaign, insisted Eaton, who currently serves on Placer County’s workgroup.

Cities within the county lean largely toward opposing recreational use. They include Lincoln, Auburn, Rocklin, Loomis and Roseville. The exception is Colfax. The small rural town exults support behind a medical cannabis dispensary.

Eight board sessions and 30 public outreach meetings produced “a pendulum swinging back and forth,” Placer Agricultural Commissioner Josh Huntsinger said.

“This is one of the most difficult, controversial issues the county has dealt with in some time,” he said.

Huntsinger mentioned an area off Highway 65 as an ideal place for a research facility, with crime, water quality and highway safety issues to be examined.

Nevada County Cannabis Alliance Director Diana Gamzon commended Placer’s efforts to build a lab, but viewed the denial of commercial retail enterprises as an economic loss.

“You’d think they’d jump all over it,” she said.

But John Falk of the Tahoe-Truckee Future Without Drug Dependence warned the supervisors “to be wary” of any marijuana silver linings because of more youth access.

Despite rancorous debate, Placer supervisors forged ahead this month on the research idea to study the drug’s impacts. They directed the workgroup to develop a cannabis testing ordinance and pursue legislative advocacy at the federal level.

The path coincides with U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch’s MEDS bill – SB1803. The Utah Republican claimed it was “high time” the feds made it easier to research the potential medical benefits of marijuana without reams of paperwork now required.

The state also wants to streamline its regulatory processes.

“That’s the goal for us. We want people to be regulated, not part of the illegal market,” California Bureau of Cannabis Control spokesman Alex Traverso said.

Marijuana products will be taxed by local jurisdictions and the state. Research facilities may apply for licenses to seek funding.

The Bureau will manage the licenses of the ventures. It has established an email address where the counties may send their ordinances at bcc.localgov.submit@dca.a.gov. The state is still working on the penalty phase of non-compliance.

To the U.S. government, cannabis is still classified as an illegal substance with a high potential for abuse. This classification has kept federal law at odds with California.

Medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 1996 when the Compassionate Use Act passed for specified medical purposes under doctor recommendations.

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