Marin County MarijuanaThough I just wrote about Marin County as part of our Cannabis Countdown series a few weeks ago, there have been major changes since then that warrant this update. Let’s start with a quick recap. In December of 2015 Marin County passed an ordinance (effective in February of 2016) giving its Board of Supervisors authority to license medical cannabis dispensaries in unincorporated Marin. This ordinance allowed up to four dispensaries in two zoned areas. Ten applications were submitted to the Marin County Board of Supervisors and open to public hearings.

I attended those meetings and left with the impression that most of the applicants were not properly prepared to deal with the public opposition they faced. The applicants were outmatched on issues like dispensary location and partner selection and they clearly had not invested sufficient time in garnering support from the local community. The County Administrator, Matthew Hymel, obviously felt the same way as he rejected all ten of the applications for a Marin County medical cannabis dispensary per the following statement:

After reviewing 10 vendor and site locations, the County Administrator has not approved any of the applications and has recommended a revised approach to licensing medical cannabis dispensaries in unincorporated areas.

After reviewing license applications and considering comments from the public, a volunteer advisory committee, and County staff, the County Administrator notified all the applicants that he was not approving their applications. Hymel said he plans to recommend that the Marin County Board of Supervisors consider a revised ordinance that would disconnect the selection of the operator from that of the location. In addition, he is recommending that the Board explore a delivery-only dispensary model to address concerns raised by residents at public meetings and via submission of written comments.

“This decision illustrates the challenge in finding the right combination of operator and location to provide patients with safe access to medical cannabis locally,” Hymel said.

The Community Development Agency (CDA) received 10 applications in designated locations where a medical cannabis dispensary could be permitted, and residents voiced opinions at three public meetings hosted this winter by CDA staff and members of the advisory committee. Of the 10 applications, eight were in the Highway 101 corridor zone and two were in the Central/West Marin zone. The 101 corridor applications included three in the Black Point area east of the Novato city limits, one in Santa Venetia near the San Rafael city limits, and four in the Tam Shoreline area between Mill Valley and Sausalito. The Central/West Marin applications included one in San Geronimo Valley and one in Marshall.

Although cannabis is considered an illegal drug by the federal government, Proposition 215 ensures that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use cannabis for medical purposes upon receiving a recommendation from a physician. The County’s ordinance is consistent with the state’s Compassionate Use Act and Medical Cannabis Program. A licensed dispensary would have to be least 800 feet from schools, public parks, smoke shops, and other cannabis dispensaries to qualify for a license.

Medical cannabis dispensaries remain prohibited in unincorporated Marin, and none are open or permitted in any of the county’s towns or cities. The ordinance establishes a regulatory framework to license nonprofit patient collectives to meet the medical needs of local patients, many of whom have voiced the need for local dispensaries before the Board of Supervisors.

Though a big (perhaps fatal) setback for these ten applicants, these rejections open the door for businesses and individuals that want to operate a medical cannabis dispensary in Marin and are willing to invest the time and resources to obtain County approval. It’s important to note that 73% of Marin residents voted in favor of the Compassionate Use Act and nearly 70% approved the Adult Use of Marijuana Act so it’s clear Marin County amply supports medicinal and recreational cannabis, at least for those applicants who do not take that support for granted.

As we have often write on here, if you are looking to snare any sort of cannabis license, it is incumbent upon you (or at least your counsel) to know the sensitive local government and local populace issues in play. We’ve seen cities and counties time and time again change their minds on interim and permanent cannabis ordinances, each of which can tremendously impact our client’s bottom-lines. To position yourself to know when these changes are coming and to be able to influence them, you need to get to know your city or county council/commission’s voting agenda and make yourself a part of the local lawmaking process. Doing this can give you a place at the table in drafting or effect change on pending ordinances while at the same time enabling you to stay on top of potential and actual changes. Staying on top of local laws requires action and vigilance. If you are not going to stay alert so as to benefit your cannabis business, hire someone to do that for you.

Whenever a city or county is about to start issuing cannabis licenses for the first time, there will be a vocal part of the community that will come out forcefully against marijuana or against marijuana in their neighborhood. Fortunately, just being loud is not always going to be a winning position against a cannabis business that has spent the time engaging with the community in which it hopes to operate. There will eventually be cannabis businesses in Marin County, but first some fences need to be mended.