County supervisors approve cannabis plan

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a proposal calling for the county Office of Cannabis Management to create a plan to reclassify and resentence some marijuana convictions.

“Part of what (county officials) want to do is to make it easy for folks to expunge their records for marijuana laws for people who have made a mistake but yet have tried to make their lives better,” said Tony Bell, spokesman for Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “For people who have made a mistake but yet have tried to make their lives better, she believes in redemption in those cases.”

Officials said the proposal would be in accordance with Proposition 64, the voter-approved ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana but also allows for some cannabis-related convictions to be reduced or dismissed.

“The war on drugs led to decades-long racial disparities in cannabis-related arrests and convictions,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said in a statement. “We have a responsibility now to seek widespread reclassification and resentencing for those with minor cannabis convictions on their records, including the destruction of court records for youth.”

Reducing or removing convictions for cannabis would open opportunities to employment, housing and financial assistance, Ridley-Thomas said.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which made the appointment, did not respond as a body to the ABA Journal’s request for comment. But Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, a Democrat representing western parts of the county, told the ABA Journal that the board was responding to complaints it heard from individual public defenders about how the office is run.

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“For many, this is the second chance that was due to them, and has been a long time coming,” he said.

“There were a series of exams and there were complaints that they were not scored correctly. Or that people were being transferred kind of arbitrarily,” says Kuehl, an inactive attorney and former child actor. “We wanted her to take a deep dive into the management piece of it and really see what was holding this office back.”

Ridley-Thomas and fellow supervisor and co-author Hilda Solis said drug enforcement has disproportionately impacted African-American and Latino communities. Other states that have legalized recreational marijuana have seen arrests fall after legalization, but have not used data tracking, which has resulted in racial disparities. As an example, the supervisors said three times as many African-Americans were arrested in Colorado compared to Caucasians, Ridley-Thomas and Solis said.

Tinkham replaces Interim Public Defender Kenneth Clayman, who replaced another interim leader. The office’s last permanent leader was Ron Brown, who retired in late 2016. The Los Angeles Times reported in January that the permanent job was offered to two different candidates in 2017, but both turned it down for personal reasons.

Drug Policy Alliance Policy Coordinator Eunisses Hernandez told the board the barriers to employment are a major issue for those previously arrested for using marijuana.

“The act of getting someone’s conviction reclassified or dismissed off their record removes at least 4,800 barriers that prevent them from obtaining housing, employment and supportive services,” Hernandez said. “Providing post-conviction relief services opens the door for new opportunities that allow people to fully integrate back into their communities after being impacted by the criminal justice system.”

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Barger still has questions over the details regarding the financial aspects of the county’s nascent marijuana legalization policy, which was approved in a November 2016 ballot measure, but only took effect Jan. 1 of this year.

“(Barger) still wants to look a little more closely at some of the funding requests for cannabis regulations,” Bell added. “She has a lot of questions around this.”

“The Board of Supervisors has a responsibility to our local businesses and their employees, and we want to provide them with essential information, to make sure that they are abiding by the law, and include them in our future planning,” Kuehl said in a statement.

The Santa Clarita City Council voted in November to lengthen a moratorium on commercial cannabis businesses. Councilman Cameron Smyth said last month he is working with a medical marijuana co-op owner to address medical marijuana.

The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, the agency that regulates taxation of marijuana, announced the cultivation tax rates for cannabis: $1.29 per ounce of fresh cannabis plant, $2.75 per dry-weight ounce of cannabis leaves and $9.25 per dry-weight ounce of cannabis flowers. The administration, which said the taxation was established as part of voter-approved Proposition 64, also said cannabis plants must be weighed within two hours after harvesting.

Economy, education, energy and transportation reporter Howard Fine can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @howardafine.

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With the deadline for the June 5 primary election fast approaching, the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors decided on Tuesday night to hold off on a potential cannabis-tax measure until the Nov. 6 general election.

The draft letter said the board supported the bill ;in concept; and described the bill has having ;the potential; to create a universal health care program. The letter called for the bill;s authors to ensure rural counties are included in discussions on how the new health care system would be paid for.

County staff recommended waiting for November because the deadline for getting a measure put on the June election ballot is March 9.

Several members of the public and local health care officials called the board to have a more clear and stronger stance on the bill, with some calling on the board to pass a resolution instead of sending a letter to the bill;s authors.

However, the board went against county staff’s recommendation to make the approval of an ordinance allowing commercial cannabis activity contingent upon whether voters approve the measure.

County Department of Health and Human Services Director Connie Beck said the department has been monitoring the progress of the bill and have been informed that there is not expected to be any movement on it in the near future.

Several of the board members expressed concern about the timeline for drafting an ordinance that would allow and regulate, as opposed to ban, California’s newly legal recreational cannabis industry.

“We’re asked to draft an ordinance in five or six months with a staff that’s already redoing a general plan and bunch of other stuff,” said District 5 Supervisor Karl Rodefer.

;I;d love to have single-payer,; Bohn said. ;You know, I;d like world peace and all of my grandkids to have a pony, but I;ve go to be realistic sometimes too about what;s going to be there.;

David Gonzalves, director of the county’s Community Resources Agency that would be responsible for drafting the ordinance, acknowledged that coming up with a final ordinance by August would stretch the staff “to the max.”

However, he and his staff believed that having an ordinance in place would provide clarity for voters to better understand what they would or would not be approving.

District 3 Supervisor Evan Royce said he didn’t want to waste staff time working on an ordinance that could become moot if the voters rejected the tax measure at the polls in November.

“We’re not saying your voting on this tax,” he said. “We’re saying you’re giving the board the taxing authority.”

Gonzalves said his staff would work with the county’s marijuana-policy consultant, SCI Consulting Group, to create a proposed measure that the board would still have to approve placing on the November ballot.

Regardless of whether a potential measure passes in November, the board will still need to separately approve an ordinance allowing commercial cannabis activity for it to become legal in the county.

John Bliss, president of SCI Consulting Group, gave a presentation earlier in the meeting laying out the board’s options for possible regulatory fees and taxes should the board open the doors to the industry.

Bliss said regulatory fees could only recoup the administrative and enforcement costs involved with regulating legal cannabis businesses, but they couldn’t be used to cover costs associated with shutting down illegal operations.

A tax could be used to help fund some of the enforcement of illegal operations, but it’s unclear whether the amount of revenue generated in the county would be enough to cover all of those costs.

The consultant’s conservative estimates peg the amount of tax revenue the county could generate per year at between $1 million and $1.5 million.

Several board members pressed Bliss on whether other places that have allowed commercial activity have seen an uptick in illegal activity. He said he spoke with law enforcement officers in San Jose who said the biggest cost to them is enforcement of illegal operations, though they declined to tell him whether there was an increase from before the market was legalized.

Bliss suggested that any tax measure set a “high ceiling” of 10 percent. He said the board could decide to impose a lower tax rate, but could not make one higher than what voters approved.

He said other jurisdictions have typically taxed the various cannabis businesses at between 3 and 5 percent because the state has a 15 percent excise tax on gross receipts from marijuana sales, in addition to the state’s own regulatory fees.

If the product is too heavily taxed, it could lead to people continuing to purchase marijuana from a less expensive black market.

“Go in at a low rate, allow your businesses to start to flourish and apply downward pressure on the black market,” Bliss said.

The board also approved disbanding the county’s Marijuana Working Group, which was part of Tuesday’s meeting as a joint session with the board, because the education phase of the process has run its course.

Posted in Santa Clarita