In the weeds

Those for and against Measure L get their say

One of the groups backing Measure L is composed of veterans.

One of the groups backing Measure L is composed of veterans.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

Measure L, which would legalize the sale of medical marijuana locally, is a sticky proposition. That much can be agreed upon by both sides of the issue.

First of all, Proposition 64 is on the general election ballot and, if passed, would legalize marijuana—for recreation, not just medicine—for California adults 21 and older. So, the details of Prop. 64 and Measure L and the difference between them confuse people.

In addition, California legislators recently passed MMRSA, aka the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which laid a framework for medical cannabis commerce, specifically sales for profit, which until this point were illegal. It also leaves it up to local jurisdictions to decide how—if at all—they will allow it. But because that act doesn’t fully go into effect until 2018, local lawmakers are waiting for the results of Prop. 64—which lays a similar framework, but for recreational marijuana—before they deal with MMRSA.

Regardless of the confusion, voters will weigh in on Measure L on Nov. 8. Those backing it say it will prepare Butte County for legalization should 64 pass; those who are against it argue that Measure L puts the cart before the horse in not waiting for Prop. 64 results.

So, what are Butte County voters to do? First of all, they should know that Measure L applies to unincorporated Butte County only. It would not allow for “pot shops” in Chico, Oroville, Paradise, etc., nor would it supersede any of those jurisdictions’ rules regarding medical marijuana.

To get a better idea of both sides’ views, CN&R spoke with Jessica MacKenzie, head of the Inland Cannabis Farmers’ Association, which submitted the measure; as well as Butte County Supervisor Doug Teeter, whose district includes the Ridge (he’s also up for re-election); and board Chairman Bill Connelly, who oversees the Oroville area. Each had concerns and desires for the region when it comes to marijuana, medical or otherwise.

“This is not a question of is this good or bad, is this medicine or not,” MacKenzie said. “The fact is, cannabis is here. The state has created a regulatory framework for cannabusinesses, and we should be ready as a county for how to take advantage of that—to take advantage of the licensing framework—so we can get hold of it and make it ours.”

That’s what Measure L would do, she explained. Its intention is to take MMRSA and apply it locally. For instance, MacKenzie said, MMRSA sets up a licensing structure for the state that covers medical cannabis businesses, from the plant to the processing to the dispensary to the patient. But it requires that local governments authorize commercial operations, such as through a license or permit, before a state license is issued. Measure L, then, says Butte County will set up such an authorization process.

That bothers Teeter. “It does not address oversight, it just says, ‘You will do this,’” he said by phone. “That makes me worried. I think somewhere there might be appropriately placed commercial grows [in Butte County], but not with Measure L.”

Teeter takes issue with some other wording that he sees as problematic that was brought to the board’s attention during a staff report earlier this month. The board unanimously voted to oppose Measure L. Teeter pointed to the term “administrative use permit” as an example. The measure requires that they be issued in certain circumstances, but “the county doesn’t have an administrative use permit. It has an administrative permit, it has a use permit …” and the two are very different.

MacKenzie acknowledges that Measure L has its flaws, an admission that’s drawn fire from opponents but that she maintains is only an admission of being human. Those flaws, she says, shouldn’t be reason to throw out the whole thing. “[MMRSA], for good or for ill, isn’t perfect,” she said, “but it’s a place to begin. Just like I think L is a place to begin for Butte County.”

Commercializing medical marijuana does several things. First, it makes selling cannabis a legitimate business. So, anyone who wants to make money off of medical marijuana, under Measure L, would have to get the required licenses and permits to do so. That in itself, MacKenzie says, will help to weed out the rogue growers. It also would allow for dispensaries— not 25 in a square mile like Measure L opponents would have people believe, she argued, as the market would not support more than a handful of dispensaries in the entire county. The biggest argument for dispensaries is that they offer consistent products that are lab-tested and clearly labeled.

Teeter isn’t convinced that Butte County will see any benefit if Measure L passes. He’s worried, for instance, that growers will simply sell to out-of-town dispensaries that will reap the sales-tax benefits. Frankly, he said, there’s just not enough spelled out in Measure L to convince him otherwise. On top of that, he sees too much left unanswered regarding enforcement.

“It’s silent on enforcement or how money is going to be utilized for enforcement,” he said, adding that he has similar concerns about MMRSA. MacKenzie counters that Measure L left certain things, like setting permitting fees, up to the county to decide, the intent being to allow the county—the “experts”—the ability to regulate appropriately.

Teeter and Connelly agree that Prop. 64 is the missing link in the chain. If that gets passed, it changes everything.

“I thought they should have waited until after November to see where the state goes on the issue of marijuana,” Connelly said. “And I believe that the current ordinance [Measure A] is working really well, as far as less complaints, less crime, less problems. In the future, there are going to be adjustments. But I can’t support Measure L. There are too many holes in it that have to be changed by a vote of the people. I just can’t support it.”