Anza Valley residents help to shut down county cannabis committee

December 10 2019, The Riverside County Board of Supervisors dealt Anza Valley cannabis growers a loss on Tuesday, voting 4-1 to disband an ad hoc committee tasked with evaluating the policies governing cannabis businesses in the county's vast unincorporated areas.

Before the supervisors decided against expanding the committee's scope, residents sparred in a lengthy and heated public comment, transforming a vote about a county subcommittee with no decision-making power into a broad debate about local, state and federal laws governing cannabis.

In 2016, California voters approved Prop. 64, which legalized cannabis sales and cultivation. The ballot initiative created a system that classified the crop as a commercial, rather than an agricultural, product, overturning prior state laws that allowed patients, caregivers and cooperatives to grow cannabis for medicinal use without any commercial permit from a local government.

Almost two years later, Riverside County supervisors passed an ordinance to regulate cannabis businesses in the unincorporated areas. The supervisors voted to allow 50 cultivation permits and 19 retail businesses. To determine who should get licenses, they created a 400-point system, which scored applicants on their location, the feasibility of their business plan and their plan to benefit the surrounding community.

The ad hoc committee, spearheaded by Supervisors Jeff Hewitt and Karen Spiegel, took on a mandate to evaluate the scoring system, come up with ways to ensure social equity and brainstorm ideas to give opportunities to cannabis growers who didn't apply for permits.

The vote on expanding the scope would've allowed the committee to discuss hemp and cannabis in rural-residential zones.

Excel Riverside’s permit denied

 May 19, 2020,There was less unity over Excel Riverside, which sought to sell marijuana out of a vacant, 3,952-square-foot property at Iowa Avenue and Center Street in Highgrove.

That location is about 300 feet from The Artist Tree. County rules require dispensaries to be at least 1,000 feet from each other.

In February, the planning commission voted unanimously to approve Excel’s application and ask the board to change the law so that retailers only had to be 250 feet apart. Excel’s attorney, Lesa Slaughter, argued that the state and a number of cities allowing cannabis don’t have distance rules and that properly licensed and regulated dispensaries can lower crime and improve the local economy.

Excel’s supporters include Savannah Ali, who said she lived a few miles from the location.

“If two gas stations can be across the street or there can be a liquor store on every corner, I think we should allow legal shops to be close together,” she said.

Mead Valley community activist Debbie Walsh opposed a smaller buffer.

“A simple zone change perhaps in any part of the unincorporated areas, and you’re going to have basically cannabis stores allowed just about anywhere,” she said.

Sonya Alemdar said the county’s cannabis rules resulted from a compromise in which everyone gave up something.

“If you throw this out the window, what else are you going to throw out?” she said.

The 1,000-foot buffer would have to be lowered countywide for Excel to get a permit. That troubled Supervisor Karen Spiegel, whose district includes Highgrove.

“If it wasn’t countywide, I could move forward with it in a heartbeat,” she said. “(But) it’s not just my district” that would be affected by the change.

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Supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Chuck Washington also didn’t want a countywide change.

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