The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 3-2 to authorize the county administrator to negotiate development agreements with commercial cannabis businesses, with supervisors Bob Elliott and Chuck Winn casting the dissenting votes.
“I’m not aware of any county that has entered into development agreements for commercial cannabis businesses,” San Joaquin County Counsel Mark Myles said.
Usually used for long-term projects such as housing, development agreements allow a property developer to complete a project under the regulations that apply at the time the agreement is negotiated, according to Myles, even if the regulations that govern that type of project change in the future.
“We don’t know how the cannabis industry is going to look two years from now, three years from now or five years from now,” Myles said.
After Measure B — a tax measure that would have effectively lifted the county’s ban on commercial cannabis businesses in unincorporated county areas — failed to pass with the necessary two-thirds majority vote during the November 2018 general election, Myles said his office has received a total of 10 requests from people who wish to operate such businesses.
A different agreement is negotiated for each applicant, Myles said, adding that supervisors could direct staff to give priority to certain types of businesses such as testing facilities over other types such as retail facilities.
The supervisors can also specify how they want funds generated from the fees to be spent, Myles said, such as law enforcement or education programs for children.
The application process could take anywhere from four to six months for simpler projects, Myles said, up to 12 to 18 months for more complex projects that require multiple permits and more thorough environmental impact reports.
Although he acknowledged that development agreements are not the most efficient way to regulate commercial cannabis businesses, he said they would be preferable to another statewide ballot initiative over which the county would have no control.
“I would rather have a county ordinance in place or county rules in place, than to have those things imposed on the county,” Myles said.
Elliott opposed the recommendation on the grounds that it would be difficult for law enforcement officers to identify which cannabis fields were legal and which were illegal, he said, and believes that San Joaquin should watch how other counties regulate their recreational cannabis markets before lifting its own ban.
“We don’t even know what the rules will be next year, let alone five years from now,” Elliott said. “Let’s keep our ban in place and wait and see what’s going to happen.”
Winn voiced his own opposition, claiming that allowing retail facilities would make cannabis more accessible to minors and that development agreements would not generate enough revenue from fees to cover the cost of enforcement.
“It’s a way to try to benefit a certain industry that has been unable to gain traction in the county,” Winn said. “I think it’s totally inappropriate in regards to development agreements and this type of industry.”
Winn also cited complaints from his constituents regarding cannabis’ odor.
“One couple in Woodbridge told me they can’t even enjoy a glass of wine on their porch because of the odor,” Winn said.
Supervisor Kathy Miller supported the recommendation, saying that the recreational use of cannabis by adults is legal and that development agreements are currently the county’s best chance at regulating the industry and generating additional revenue from it.
“Our residents will be better served by having a well-crafted ordinance on the books and having control over the pace (at which the industry grows,)” Miller said.
While Miller said she believes unincorporated county areas would most likely not provide a large customer base for retail facilities, she would like to see priority given to laboratory testing facilities when negotiating development agreements.
“We are in very short supply of those in this state, and I think it would be a good economic development opportunity for the county,” Miller said.
Supervisor Tom Patti also supported the recommendation, saying that he did not want to see San Joaquin County miss out on revenue that other counties are receiving.
“As we speak, right now, Sacramento and Stanislaus counties have (cannabis) delivery services coming to San Joaquin County and we are not seeing one cent of that,” Patti said. “I for one, do believe we need to be a bit more holistic in how we view this.”