Board Considers Series Of Changes To County’s Cannabis Ordinance

City News Service Pristine Villarreal

RIVERSIDE (CNS) – The Board of Supervisors is slated Tuesday to consider a bevy of proposed changes to Riverside County’s commercial cannabis ordinance, establishing avenues for the revocation of licenses due to non- operation, loosening regulations on signage and permitting marijuana manufacturing in previously restricted zones.

The proposed changes to Ordinance No. 348, the “Commercial Cannabis Activities” regulatory apparatus, were prompted by requests from different supervisors, as well as changes in state policies.

The hearing on Tuesday will be a first reading of the proposed changes, followed by at least one more hearing in March prior to board approval of the revised ordinance.

One of the most significant adjustments to the ordinance was proposed by board Chairman Kevin Jeffries, who has repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with cannabis operators that have received county licenses and reached development agreements with the county but have not made any progress toward opening their doors.

The chairman’s frustrations have stemmed, in part, from a stipulation that operators be at least 1,000 feet apart. When a permit-holder has been granted the freedom to begin a sales or distribution business but doesn’t move forward, allowing the site to languish, other prospective operators are prevented from establishing their outlets there due to the buffer zone requirement.

Jeffries’ modification would specify that a permit can be revoked if a “certificate of occupancy (for a sales or distribution site) has not been obtained within two years of obtaining an approved conditional use permit.”

There would be an appeals process and discretion on the part of the director of the Department of Planning to waive the occupancy requirement under certain circumstances.

A provision sought by Supervisor Karen Spiegel would be that cannabis operators have a minimum of 15 parking spaces — or alternately one space per 200 square feet of building area — available, where prior requirements were less stringent. Spiegel in 2021 contended with a controversial cannabis dispensary in the community of Coronita, an unincorporated area situated virtually inside the city of Corona, where many residents complained about traffic going in and out of the site.

Another provision slated for modification is where differently classified cannabis manufacturers can legally operate, based on a recent policy implemented by the California Department of Cannabis Control.

Currently, manufacturers that conduct “infusion of oils and other product add-ons” are restricted to operating in areas zoned only for light industry, as are manufacturers engaged in “packing and repackaging of products.” If the board chooses to adopt the new CDCC policy, these activities would be permitted in areas zoned for commercial activity, not just industrial.

The supervisors will also consider whether to permit cannabis outlets to utilize “illuminated wall signs” outside their establishments. There is currently a prohibition on electrified signage, but the Transportation & Land Management Agency is proposing to dispense with the restriction and instead only require cannabis operators to abide by “the county’s standard signage requirements for a commercial business, which includes lighted signs.”

Since 2020, the board has granted 23 conditional use permits for cannabis businesses in unincorporated communities, seven of which have opened their doors. In addition to Coronita, operations have been authorized in Bermuda Dunes, East Hemet, Green Acres, Highgrove, Mead Valley, Temescal Valley, Thousand Palms and Winchester.

Ordinance No. 348 began with the county’s 2018 Marijuana Comprehensive Regulatory Framework, which provided steps that prospective businesses must take to be eligible for permits. Safety and health safeguards are part of the regulatory stipulations.

Copyright 2023, City News Service, Inc.

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