By Deb Murphy

One thing was clear after the public comment period at the Planning Department’s presentation on upcoming community outreach meetings on marijuana operations during Tuesday’s Inyo County Board of Supervisors’ meeting: the industry has come a long way from growin’ your own under bright lights in a bathroom.

Reginald Cook, a medical marijuana grower, gave the Board a tutorial on potential retail pricing, labor costs and needs for large operations and the high percent of unacceptable herbicide, pesticide and mold levels coming out of some testing labs.

John Miler, sitting on manufacturing zoned acreage in Olancha suggested the County approve testing labs, regulate delivery services and get around the federal laws against banks accepting “drug money” by laundering it through the County. Okay, he didn’t actually use the word “laundering.” Cook’s recommendation was to encourage small, state banks to offer financial services to the new businesses to get away from the cash-only issues.

Residents from Round Valley to Trona will get a chance to weigh-in on and learn about options available to the County to embrace, or not, this new industry in what Planning’s Cathreen Richards described as March Madness. The public outreach presentations start March 6 in Big Pine and end April 5 in Tecopa. The meetings will be publicized in advance of each session. Here’s a sneak preview:

The County can’t regulate personal possession of an ounce or less by an adult or the right of individuals to cultivate six plants indoors. All commercial businesses, however, can be banned or regulated. The majority of voters indicated acceptance of commercial marijuana operations on the November 8 ballot.

Richards used a map of Big Pine to illustrate state law prohibitions, current zoning and land or structures large enough for a viable commercial operation. While each community will vary, it was obvious no one will be overrun with large-scale operations.

The public will be able to comment on an acceptable or tolerated size and location of commercial cultivation; whether manufacturing of edibles or extraction operations using solvents are okay. The same for retail store fronts and microbusinesses, the only licensing category that allows for a combination of operations (that is, cultivation, manufacturing—not using solvents—and retail. The size restrictions on microbusiness licenses limits these operations to what is described as “Mom and Pop” businesses.

Some of the tools available to the County’s zoning ordinances are overlay districts and application for a conditional use permit.

The County can also allow or ban consumption on a business site—similar to cigar bars but without the liquor.

The only business category not on the table was delivery services. All other considerations come under land use and the Planning Department.

Following the presentation and public comment, Supervisor Matt Kingsley, acknowledged the input of local cultivators or potential cultivators, suggested a registry for industry people following the public outreach meetings.

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