Most OC Supervisors Taking a Hard Line on Pot Businesses

Thanks to the passage of Proposition 64, Californians aged 21 and older are now free to recreationally smoke weed in the privacy of their own homes. And next year, adults will be able to walk into a pot shop and buy all manner of marijuana products.

But where and when the pot shops and commercial growing operations will be allowed to operate, and how much in local fees they’ll pay, will be up to city and county governments. And based on a discussion Tuesday, it doesn’t seem like the Orange County Board of Supervisors will be laying out the welcome mat for marijuana entrepreneurs.

The supervisors regulate land use in the county’s unincorporated areas, which are home to about 130,000 people in places like North Tustin, Midway City, Rossmoor, Ladera Ranch, Silverado, and Trabuco Canyon.

If it were entirely up to Supervisor Todd Spitzer — known as a law-and-order conservative who wants to run for district attorney in 2018 — the businesses would be banned in all areas under the county’s jurisdiction.

“My personal feeling is ban everything, outright,” Spitzer said at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting. But he also supported having a “working group” of county law enforcement and department leaders study the issue and report back to supervisors with recommendations.

Supervisor Michelle Steel echoed that sentiment, saying she wants “nothing to do with” allowing marijuana operations, while also supporting a study of the issue by the working group, which has met just once so far.

Steel, who was appointed chairwoman of the board later on Tuesday, is widely believed to want to eventually replace Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), who happens to be one of the most pro-marijuana members of Congress.

Supervisor Andrew Do seemed reluctant to allow marijuana businesses, emphasizing that marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Creating regulations would be an “implicit” defiance of federal law, he said.

But Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who tends to have a libertarian view of social policy, supported allowing marijuana businesses, saying their product is far less dangerous than the alcohol that’s readily available at grocery stores.

“We need to commit to being involved in some reasonable policy to tax it,” said Nelson, who has been planning to seek a judgeship when his term is up in 2018. “I worry a lot more about what’s going on at commercial pharmacies, as far as danger.”

He noted that one marijuana business the county can’t restrict is mobile delivery services, which will allow residents of the county’s unincorporated areas to access marijuana regardless of how stringent the supervisors’ regulations turn out to be.

Aware of this reality, Spitzer suggested he’d be open to allow some marijuana businesses to operate, in order to raise funds to pay for enforcement efforts against illegal activity.

“I am concerned that the cost for enforcement on the commercial side [will] overwhelm our agencies, and we’re not helping them come up with some regulatory mechanism to fund that,” he said.

A lobbyist for the county told supervisors they can create “reasonable regulations” of commercial marijuana businesses, which has been interpreted to mean permits, fees, and controls on water and lighting for grow operations.

The county’s working group is now slated to explore the issue and report back to supervisors with recommendations at an unknown date.

Spitzer called for two supervisors to be added to the group. But County Counsel Leon Page informed them that doing so would likely trigger a state law requirement that those meetings be open to the public under state law, and the board decided not to do so.

They did briefly talk about holding a public forum to get community input, but didn’t take any steps to start the planning process for it.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.