Sacramento to allow more medical marijuana grows

City working against clock to implement new cultivation laws before state deadline

Sacramento and other cities statewide have 80 days to figure out how to regulate medicalcannabis cultivation—this after 19 years of legislative inaction.

Sacramento and other cities statewide have 80 days to figure out how to regulate medicalcannabis cultivation—this after 19 years of legislative inaction.

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After 19 years of practically zero guidance or oversight of California’s estimated $1.3 billion medical-pot industry, the state passed a bowlful of marijuana laws this year—and now cities such as Sacramento are on a tight deadline to comply.

“All of the sudden, there’s just this flurry” of new rules, explained Chris Lindsey, an analyst with advocacy group the Marijuana Policy Project.

Lindsey described the new laws, which he praised, as putting pressure on cities “to do something before the clock runs out.”

For instance, if Sacramento doesn’t figure out the basics for how to regulate medical-cannabis cultivation in the next 80 days, the California Department of Food and Agriculture will take over and make the rules for the city.

“It’s pretty crazy,” said Brad Wasson, the city’s revenue manager who oversees some medical-cannabis projects.

But Sacramento appears poised to move forward, and fast. This past Tuesday, a committee was scheduled to begin discussions on how to regulate commercial marijuana grows, and the goal is for a new cultivation code to go into effect by February 26, 2016, just days before the deadline.

That timeline is bold, but Lindsey reminded that cities had nearly two decades to come up with their own policies on matters such as cultivation. They simply chose not to act until after the state.

“And now the state’s done it,” Lindsey said of this year’s Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which includes three new laws that establish a framework to oversee California’s medical-cannabis industry.

The nitty-gritty: City staff recommends changing land-use rules to allow for cultivation of medical cannabis in industrial and agricultural zones. This would be a departure from current law, which only allows grows indoors in residential areas.

If approved, the city would require permits for commercial grows, limit the size of grow buildings to 22,000 square feet, and require that they be at least 600 feet from schools or parks. The city also recommends limiting the number of permits, similar to how there is a cap on the number of medical-cannabis dispensaries.

Do the new rules mean that Sacramento will become a major hub for commercial marijuana gardens?

“Right now, I don’t see that happening,” Wasson said. “I don’t think Sacramento wants to be a big California cultivation city.”

After the city passes basic zoning rules for pot operations, it will revisit regulatory issues later in the year. At that time, the city will comb details such as manufacturing of edible marijuana and transferring flowers to dispensaries.

In the meantime, the city continues to collect $2 million annually from a 4 percent tax on medical-cannabis-dispensary sales. The city is projecting another $1 million in tax revenue from cultivation business. There are also discussions for a city ballot measure to tax recreational marijuana, if passed by voters next year, and to increase other pot taxes.

Meanwhile, the state of California has set a two-year deadline to finalize its own framework and rules on various medical-cannabis industries.