Pot for sale?

New county initiative poised for November ballot outlines sales of medical marijuana

The Inland Cannabis Farmers’ Association dropped off more than 10,000 signatures last week (June 6) on an initiative that would allow medical marijuana sales in Butte County.

The Inland Cannabis Farmers’ Association dropped off more than 10,000 signatures last week (June 6) on an initiative that would allow medical marijuana sales in Butte County.

Photo courtesy of Jessica MacKenzie

The day before the primary election, on June 6, representatives from the Inland Cannabis Farmers’ Association dropped off a special delivery at the Butte County Clerk-Recorder’s Office. Inside more than half a dozen boxes were thousands of signatures from Butte County voters, potentially enough to get a new initiative—the Medical Cannabis Cultivation and Commerce measure (aka MC3)—on the November ballot.

“The big picture is that we need to stop the tactical skirmishes,” said Jessica MacKenzie, ICFA president. “We looked at what makes sense—from the time a plant goes into ground to the time a patient picks it up as medicine in the dispensary?”

<Yes, she said “dispensary.” MC3 calls for legalizing them. And, going off the state laws passed last year and known collectively as MMRSA (the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act), it outlines a system for medical marijuana sales, from seed to patient. As MacKenzie describes MMRSA, “It creates a structure for the professional, commercial cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes, and it stretches it out like a product cycle—like any other product that a person would buy at a store.”</p>

In that way, MMRSA set up systems for permitting as well as environmental review and taxation. But it also offers local jurisdictions power to regulate, should they choose to, many of the specifics. In reaction to the passage of MMRSA, for example, many cities and counties across the state—including several within Butte County—moved to pass laws, some of them outright bans, on growing and dispensing cannabis. If passed in Butte County, MC3 would replace Measure A, the law regulating cultivation. It also would remove the current prohibition on dispensaries.

“If we just regulate cultivation, what happens afterward?” MacKenzie asked. “The cartels do not care about our property or the environment. Rogue growers who come in do not care what they leave behind, or about being good neighbors.

“The guy on the corner does not care how old your kids are,” she continued. “But dispensaries will card your children. A regulatory market beats a black market any day of the week.”

According to the initiative summary, MC3 “would generally regulate the cultivation, manufacturing, testing, distribution, transportation and storage of medical cannabis within the county.” It points to existing law—including MMRSA—to aid in many of the specifics. For example, MMRSA outlines how to permit grow sites and makes it legal to sell—and therefore tax—cannabis. Locally, zoning laws will be the most helpful tool for figuring out where different steps in the process would best fit.

Butte County Counsel Bruce Alpert announced during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting that there were over 10,000 signatures on the initiative, but that they had not yet been verified because of the primary election. He could not be reached for comment following the meeting, but he did say the matter would be coming before the board soon.

“One of the things people keep saying is, ‘Why not wait till after November?’” MacKenzie said of opponents. In November, California voters could be asked to legalize pot for recreational use. If they do so, however, it could take another couple of years to get all those regulations in place. ICFA would rather jump into the game early to ensure local growers aren’t edged out by Big Pharma and Big Tobacco, she said.

“We want time to allow people who have been fighting for this to have a chance to get their business models in place, these small cottage farms in place,” she said. “That way they can build their brands and demand for their brands. If we wait until 2018 to start and compete with Philip Morris, other counties will be ahead of us.”