LA County extends ban on marijuana in unincorporated areas, limits personal cultivation

- The County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously today to ban all commercial cannabis activities -- medical and non-medical -- in unincorporated areas and took a first pass at regulating personal cultivation.

The move extends a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas that has been in place since 2010 and broadens the prohibition to include the cultivation, manufacture, testing and distribution of the drug for other than personal use.

The new ordinance is designed to give the county more time to develop a comprehensive set of regulations given statewide legalization.

It limits residents to growing six plants, with most single-family homeowners allowed to plant inside or outdoors, while apartment dwellers are restricted to indoor cultivation. "It's been a very thoughtful process," Supervisor Kathryn Barger said, before proposing an amendment that would also prohibit growing marijuana within 600 feet of any school or day care center.

The amendment was approved and residents on single-family lots must also comply with rules about setbacks and fencing. "Some of my residents have already begun to be a little nervous about hillside areas" where plants can be seen by neighbors, Supervisor Janice Hahn said.

Under the ordinance, plants may not be visible from a public right-of-way or above a fence, though the county can't regulate what can be seen from a neighbor's window, for example, a county regional planner told the board. Both those in support of and opposed to the ban acknowledged that the ordinance is simply an interim step.

Advocates of the ban, including representatives from Rethinking Access to Marijuana, urged the board to work on regulation that limits access by youth -- including controls on packaging and labeling that appeals to kids -- and to
continue to shut down illegal dispensaries. 

Opponents lobbied the board to consider the needs of patients who use medical marijuana to manage pain and other symptoms and may not be in a position to grow their own plants.

County workers have raised concerns about enforcing laws on cultivation and worries that they might encounter growers willing to use weapons to defend their crops, according to Hahn.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said, "There's a lot of work yet to be done with respect to this brave new world that we're about to enter." State permits for cannabis businesses will not be available until January 2018.

In a statement issued later, Ridley-Thomas stressed that the board was focused on implementing what it believes voters want -- responsible regulation. He also highlighted what he called the negative impact dispensaries have on low-income communities, saying liquor stores have also historically increased crime
and addiction in those neighborhoods.

"The ban does not mean that we are reinstating the war on drugs or that we are opposing the vote of the people," Ridley-Thomas said. "We are trying to create rational, responsible and accountable cannabis commerce."

Local governments are entitled under state law to ban such businesses and prohibit outdoor personal cultivation. Use of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

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