Goldstein: OC Supervisors Should Rethink Proposed Ban on Cannabis Activities

Sunshine Johnston, a local marijuana farmer in Humboldt County, hangs her plant from ceiling hooks while it dries before the trimming process begins. (Photo by Brittan Jenkins | News21)

Today the Board of Supervisors (BOS) will vote on a proposed county ordinance to ban commercial cannabis activities and outdoor personal cultivation. As a voter in Orange County who has been recognized as an international subject matter drug policy expert and as a spokesperson for Proposition 64, I’m disappointed by the staff reports and the lack of open dialogue with all community stakeholders who, through the democratic process, voted to legalize and regulate cannabis. Ignoring the will of voters can and will only lead to low voter satisfaction, and, in the case of not regulating cannabis, a host of public safety issues.

As a retired police professional, and an executive board member for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) I know that the voice of law enforcement is crucial in the dialogue concerning drug policy and public safety. As a professional, my experience fighting both gangs and narcotics helped me reach the conclusion that it is the illicit market and marijuana prohibition that fuel crimes that impact public safety and concern law enforcement.

We already know a flourishing illegal market threatens public safety and public health, provides convenient access to youth, and imposes significant financial costs. Legalizing cannabis in the first place allows us to address these problems through the implementation of regulations. But creating excessive barriers through bans takes us two steps backward and will only continue to prop up the illicit market while incurring significant public safety costs. A ban will also deny the county access to any revenue sharing as proscribed by law.

But today in the case of the new cannabis paradigm, it’s clear that county staff and the majority of the supervisors are ignoring the mandate of the voters and readily available research that reflects that sensible regulation can enhance public safety. In 2016, Proposition 64, The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) passed by 57.1% in California. This vote sent a clear message to legislators, and law enforcement alike that the public is ready to move on from the failed war on marijuana. Even in Orange County, voters in all five supervisory districts voted to approve taxing and regulating the time, place and manner of sales. According to voter records every supervisory district voted in favor of the control and regulation of adult consumption marijuana and the regulation of the emerging industry.

District 1: 50%

District 2: 54%

District 3: 51%

District 4: 51%

District 5: 53%

OC Supervisor Districts Results Prop 64

Since its passage, the County has not held adequately advertised public meetings on the issue of the regulation of commercial cannabis activity. I am aware of one previous BOS meeting where the issue of regulation was discussed and sent out to staff for recommendations. Since then according to County reports, a Planning Commission Meeting was advertised on September 29 with the Orange County Reporter, a small journal whose primary focus is on public notices, not news or known for access to the public. On October 11 a Planning Commission meeting was held yet it’s no wonder that there were no public comments or participation at the meeting. Given the mandate that the voters of Orange County returned, it’s clear that the BOS had the opportunity to develop an inclusive process to hear from all community stakeholders, but chose not to do so by not calling for wider publicity for public input.

I’m also disappointed in reading the staff report that appears to be short on specific examples of harms caused by regulation, rather making broad claims that have long been associated with the unregulated cannabis industry. This includes citing a nine-year old memorandum published by the California Attorney General, that was issued at a time when there was a lack of research on the impact of a regulated industry on local land uses and crime and a lack of regulations in the state. Furthermore, this memo is no longer valid as the laws themselves have changed dramatically since 2009.

Some examples of updated research that can be easily found by a simple Google search today include, a 2011 study by the Rand Corporation that disproved the common misconception that medical marijuana dispensaries attract crime. In a study of crime near Los Angeles dispensaries, Rand found that after dispensaries were required to close, crime nearby actually increased. In 2012 a UCLA study entitled Exploring the Ecological Association Between Crime and MMD [Medical Marijuana Dispensaries] found that “density of medical marijuana dispensaries was not associated with violent or property crime rates.”

While a 2013 study by the University of Colorado (Denver) School of Public Affairs answered the question ‘Do Medical Marijuana Centers Behave Like Locally Undesirable Land Uses[i]?’, the research reflected that lawfully regulated storefront operations impact on a neighborhood was no greater than other retail business, and that the media and law enforcement itself exaggerated the undesirability of storefront operations. Further research includes a study titled Medical Marijuana and Crime[ii] that reflects there are no “spillover effects on violent or property crime.” A fourth study looking at crime data from the years of 1990 to 2006 failed to uncover a crime nexus with a lawfully regulated and licensed medical marijuana industry[iii].

It is clear that the illicit and criminal distribution of cannabis would be greatly reduced in the County by allowing a regulated cannabis industry moving forward. There are many law enforcement agencies, cities and counties that are successfully regulating cannabis, or are working towards regulation, who have held open and transparent meetings and/or established inclusive working groups to address potential issues. There are many examples of sensibly-regulated local cannabis ordinances that we can look to craft public policy that is consistent with voter values and with best governance practices which are responsive and participatory to its diverse constituency.

Retired Lt. Commander Diane Goldstein was the first female lieutenant for the Redondo Beach Police Department. She’s now an executive board member for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a nonprofit group of police, judges, and other law enforcement professionals who advance drug policy and criminal justice solutions that improve public safety.

Editors Note: We are including references to footnotes below.

[i] Boggess, L. N., Pérez, D. M., Cope, K., Root, C., & Stretesky, P. B. (2014). Do medical marijuana centers behave like locally undesirable land uses? Implications for the geography of health and environmental justice. Urban Geography, 1-22.

[ii] Shepard, E. M., & Blackley, P. R. (2016). Medical Marijuana and Crime. Journal of Drug Issues,46(2), 122-134. doi:10.1177/0022042615623983

[iii] Morris, R. G., Teneyck, M., Barnes, J. C., & Kovandzic, T. V. (2014). The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on Crime: Evidence from State Panel Data, 1990-2006. PLoS ONE,9(3). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092816

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

 Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org