Out of Joint

Assembly bill would force municipalities to open retail pot shops

As Scott Weiner works with fellow state senator Mike McGuire to selectively preempt local zoning laws to ease the way for more housing construction, Assemblyman Phil Ting—another Bay Area Democrat—is trying to do something similar for the pot industry.

If Ting’s AB 1356 passes, it would force cities and counties to allow one cannabis retail permit for every four liquor licenses in the jurisdiction.

But that is only if more than half of the electorate in a jurisdiction voted for Proposition 64’s adult-use legalization in 2016.

For cities that already allow for recreational sales and are looking to grow the local pot economy, including Santa Rosa, Ting’s bill may not make much of a difference. But jurisdictions whose elected officials have banned retail recreational cannabis dispensaries despite majority support from residents—including, for example, Healdsburg, or Marin County’s unincorporated areas—could be in for a ride. Some 75 percent of all cities and counties have banned retail pot business since the passage of Proposition 64, according to state research highlighted by Ting. His bill aims to reverse the trend.

“Californians voted for Prop. 64 to replace the illicit market with a legal system that would grant Californians safe access to cannabis products, while also creating good jobs and significant tax revenue,” Ting said in announcing his bill earlier this year. “However, these goals can only be fully realized if enough licenses are granted to meet existing demand. This bill will ensure the legal market
can succeed.”

The bill is supported by labor organizations and veteran’s groups that have called for expanded access to medical cannabis, and would also help working-class people and the disabled have greater access to legal cannabis products, says Shivawn Brady, a board member of the Sonoma County Grower’s Alliance who personally supports Ting’s bill. It passed the Senate Business and Professions committee April 29 and is headed to the Appropriations committee later this month.

“Despite voters approving Prop. 64, there are cannabis deserts across the state where veterans and patients have to drive long distances to a licensed shop,” said Aaron Augustis, founder of Veterans Cannabis Group, in response to Ting’s bill. “We served our country and want to work with our local cities, counties, and state governments to ensure our veterans have safe access across the state to medicinal cannabis. AB 1356 is crucial for veterans’ access.”

In the South Bay, the local pro-weed advocates at the Silicon Valley Cannabis Alliance have come out in support of AB 1356. Locally, Brady says she supports Ting’s bill which will, she says, provide access to a legal medical product to locals who might have to travel out of town for their medicine.

Ting’s bill would require that cities and counties to issue cannabis licenses equal to 25 percent of the number of liquor store licenses in the jurisdiction—a reasonable ratio, says Brady—or one license for every 10,000 residents. Organizations including Urban Counties of California have cast a wary eye, saying it would “force local jurisdictions to approve licenses for medical and recreational cannabis retailers.”

The bill applies to jurisdictions that approved Prop 64. In Napa the vote was 37,000 for; 23,333 against. Napa has issued a handful of cannabis licenses since legalization.

In Marin County, an overwhelming 96,000 residents supported Prop 64 while 43,200 voted it down. But, with the exception of San Rafael, Marin towns and cities from Novato to Fairfax have rolling moratoriums banning non-medical cannabis retail establishments. Nearly 140,000 Sonomans supported legalization, with 94,500 against. Sonoma’s cannabis rollout has been stymied by residents’ pushback to commercial grows and other cannabis businesses in their midst—and a complicated, expensive and time-consuming licensing protocol that has conspired to keep black market sales at about 60 percent of pot sales statewide, according to industry estimates.

On the licensing front, there are currently two cannabis business applications on the calendar at the Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments: One is for a 225 acre grow in rural Guerneville that represents a major expansion of an existing cannabis-business footprint. According to the growers’ website, the pot is grown for a CBD healing salve. That one’s been fully vetted by Building and Zoning Administration staff and recommending approval at the zoning board’s May 9 meeting.

The other is for a commercial cannabis growing and processing site in Santa Rosa in an industrial center near Todd Road and Highway 101.

As of this week, the BZA staff has yet to release their recommendation for this 11-acre indoor commercial application, which would be located, if approved, within 600 feet of a private school called New Beginnings. That school contracts with Sonoma County to assist traumatized youth and parents through educational, outreach and life-skills programs.

The school’s location is not at issue given that there’s no school setback required for indoor cultivation in industrial zones, says Sonoma County spokesperson Maggie Fleming. The county does evaluate neighborhood compatibility issues, she says in an email, and the applicant, KJM Data and Research, “has been doing outreach with the school since they started operations and the school has not submitted any concerns to date, after receiving three public notifications about the project: Early neighborhood notification, hearing waiver notice, and most recently hearing notice.” The application is set to go before the zoning board on May 16.

General Issue

By any account, it looked like a pretty busy day in early May at Xavier Becerra’s office. The state attorney general pushed out four press releases on May 2, mostly directed at holding Washington D.C. accountable—but also at police accountability in the state.

In one announcement, Becerra denounced President Donald Trump’s rollback of offshore drilling rules that came about after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The AG further announced that California, leading a coalition of 20 states, had filed a reply brief to Trump’s challenge to their lawsuit, California et. al. v Trump, et al., over the president’s national emergency declaration at the southern border. The fourth release didn’t directly criticize Trump—though it could have, given the president’s embrace of ethnic profiling—as Becerra announced a new state DOJ video to help enhance public buy-in of an ambitious police-accountability law.

In 2015, the state of California passed the Racial and Identity Profiling Act, a first-in-the-nation law which requires, by 2023, that all law enforcement agencies across the state collect detailed information and recordings of stops and searches, including data on the officers’ perception of the person being stopped, in order to combat “policing profiling” of suspects.

But earlier this year, the board that was created with the passage of RIPA released a report that found very little evidence of racial profiling in California in 2017.

The California Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board was created to “shepherd this data collection and provide public reports with the ultimate objective to eliminate racial and identity profiling and improve and understand diversity in law enforcement through training, education, and outreach.” In 2017, the board cast a wide net around the state to provisionally determine the extent of the racial-profiling problem in California. The results indicated that there was practically no racial-profiling problem in California.

Of the 453 agencies subject to RIPA reporting in 2017, 79 said they had no civilian complaints reported that year. The RIPA board and its followers were split on what the data meant: For some law enforcement representatives it meant that there wasn’t much of a racial profiling crisis in California. For police-accountability advocates, it meant that the data-collection process under RIPA was either flawed or corrupted by the police “blue wall,” or both.

This spring, eight big police agencies sent a year’s worth of data to the state Department of Justice on
April 1, to be analyzed for next year’s annual report.

As it reported a low number of civilian complaints in its 2017 study, the board addressed a possible absence of public buy-in in RIPA’s data-collection process as the culprit behind what to many police-accountability activists were seen as surprisingly low numbers.

The board aimed in the annual report released in March to “enhance the transparency of the stop data collection process by providing the public with detailed information on how the data is collected and submitted and how the Department [of Justice] and law enforcement agencies ensure the integrity of this data.”

That information includes the date, time and duration of a stop, the reason for a stop, the officer’s perception of the race, ethnicity, age, gender, disability or language fluency of the person stopped.

The RIPA rollout is pegged to the size of law enforcement agencies. Agencies with more than 1,000 peace officers had to file their first reports with the state Department of Justice by April 1 of this year. Agencies with between 667 and 1,000 peace officers will submit their first reports by next April 1; those with between 334 and 667 peace officers (that includes the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office) will be RIPA-compliant by 2022; and agencies with fewer than 334 officers will issue their first reports in 2023. —Tom Gogola

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