By Deb Murphy

David McPherson used to be in law enforcement. Today, he’s the Cannabis Compliance Director for Hinderliter, de Llamas and Associates, the consultant hired by Inyo County to help figure out how to navigate the weird, complex waters of California’s Prop. 64, legalizing recreational marijuana, and the volumes of enabling legislation still in progress.

McPherson’s direction to the Inyo County Board of Supervisors Tuesday was simple: follow the best practices in regulating pot businesses for public safety and land use, take your time and do it right.

The time factor, according to McPherson, is one factor resulting in a marijuana mess in Colorado and Washington, both states okayed recreational use 2012. “The damage in Colorado was self-inflicted,” he said. The state had 150 days to cobble together regulations. California’s Prop. 64 commercial operation permits won’t go into effect until January 2018, giving the multiple state departments enough time to work through the details.

According to McPherson, the state has set the regulatory bar fairly low. For example: commercial operations have to be located at least 600 feet from schools, day care centers and places of youth activity. The counties have the option of raising that bar.

You have the tax in place and the numbers” of voters approving both medical and commercial operations, McPherson said referring to three advisory measures on the November 9 ballot. He encouraged the County to start a registry of potential pot-related business applicants “to assess the costs and get an idea of the dynamics.” Alternatives, first-come-first-served in the permitting process, or lotteries, weren’t good ideas. “You want the best actors,” he said.

Rather than concentrating in the income stream from taxes, McPherson suggested setting public safety and land use as top priorities. “If you do these right, the appropriate money will come,” he said.

The consultant filled in some details in the enabling legislation:

  • Counties can apply reasonable restrictions on non-commercial cultivation: banning outdoor cultivation, requiring permits for cultivation, and enacting growth limits. What counties can’t do is require background checks as part of the permitting process. Eventually, “everything will be defined by case law” as to what is a reasonable restriction, McPherson said.

  • Cannabis is now defined as an agricultural product so if an area is zoned ag, cannabis cultivation is legal but the county puts other requirements in place.

  • Potential growers in communities with CC&Rs or operating on leased lands could require approval of the homeowners’ association or lessee.

  • The County should consider its stance on microbusinesses, vertical operations that include cultivation, manufacturing, sales and delivery, everything but testing with permits required for each aspect of the business.

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