Across California, city and county officials are enacting bans on commercial and personal cannabis cultivation, as well as dispensaries and other facilities. Others like Arcata are embracing the future of a burgeoning industry with the approval of an “innovation zone,” but even in the Emerald Triangle some cities like Fortuna are approving bans.
As the state transitions to an actually regulated medical cannabis system, many of these municipalities see this as their last chance to have a say in how cannabis is handled locally. Otherwise, the state is the default system. Or at least that’s what people thought was the case. This was a “typo” that State Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) explained in a recent open letter:
“During the scramble at the end of the legislative session this year, an inadvertent drafting error placed a deadline on local jurisdictions, requiring them to adopt their own land use regulations for medical cannabis cultivation by March 1, 2016, or turn that responsibility over to the state. As soon as I was aware of the error, I published a letter in the Assembly Journal, the official record of the Assembly, declaring my intention to pass urgency legislation as soon as the Legislature reconvenes in January.”
But too little, too late. Such a deadline lit a fire under the collective arses of the state’s elected officials. Some, like those in Humboldt at the county level, decided to press forward with regulating rather than banning, and kept to that promise after the change was announced. Others, like Merced, decided to ban first and ask questions later, even after the explained “typo.” Many don’t seem to have heard about the correction, based on news reports.
Why Local Control of Cannabis Won’t Change
Local control is a big, damn deal for California: this widespread state is diverse in its geography, climate and peoples, so what makes sense for L.A. isn’t going to necessarily make sense for Yreka or even Sacramento.
I grew up in a small, conservative town in Northern California, and there was an ever-present frustration from those living there that ideas and restrictions built for San Francisco and L.A. were pushed in rural communities like theirs. Cities and small communities vary greatly in services and resources. If L.A. thinks it’s a good idea, then areas like that don’t feel they have the votes or the lobbying weight to stop perceived threats to the community or inconvenient policies that don’t have the intended effect in rural areas. And my hometown is not the only one that feels that way (whether they are right or not is a different topic). In areas where they have flexibility, cities and counties feel they can tailor their resources to their needs better than politicians from another part of the state.
Though local controls are built in for areas like education and zoning regulations, cities and counties have to fight the state to keep control. Funding for redevelopment to improve communities (which the state eventually took back and ended), education funds (which were held back for several years), and other sources of specific funding are intended as local controls but the state can and will pull these funds to save the state budget. The best bet local governments have is to control policies and funds before they ever get to the state and to spend whatever resources the state does allocate before it decides to take back the funds.
On a smaller scale, community service districts are established in communities that have a higher rural population density but aren’t a city — this is how a small area like McKinleyville can have more of a voice instead of just being another part of the county.
In fact, California’s philosophy of local control is part of what lead in 2004 to then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom authorizing the city to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples — the first in the state. The city was forced to stop after a month and the marriages were later declared void, but the act left an impact on the national consciousness that couldn’t be undone.
I say these things because while local control is not the best option for the cannabis industry right now, it is the model California has chosen for itself and it does have its perks in other arenas. This is not the battleground where you should stand, because the fight you have is really not with local control. What we really want to change are the bans and the big, underlying factor: the perception of cannabis in these banning communities. Local control makes this difficult because it splits the battleground into hundreds of unique places, leaving up to individual communities to seek out the opportunities and face the challenges in their own backyard.
See the 2nd and final part California Binges on Cannabis Bans — A United Community is What Will Change That (Part 2)