Monday, March 19 , 2018, 9:54 pm | Fair 55º


Ron Fink: Is It Reefer Madness for Lompoc to Regulate Growing and Use of Pot?

Proposition 64, the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative, was passed statewide by voters (57 percent) during the November election and received an overwhelming majority in Santa Barbara County. But did voters really know what they voted for?

And, more importantly, does the Lompoc City Council know what its duty to the public is as its members try to craft a new city ordinance?

This proposition does two things; it legalizes the use of pot and, theoretically, raises sin tax money for state and local governments. A “sin tax” is levied on tobacco, alcohol, soft drinks and anything the nanny state thinks is bad for you.

So, how much sin tax will users have to pay? A cultivation tax of $9.25 per ounce for flowers and $2.75 per ounce for leaves, with exceptions for certain medical marijuana sales and cultivation, and a 15 percent tax on the retail price of marijuana.

Local governments were authorized to levy additional taxes if they wanted to; some politicians thought this would be a cash cow. The state envisioned new statewide income ranging “from the high hundreds of millions of dollars to over $1 billion annually.

As a bonus, they thought that “reduced costs potentially in the tens of millions of dollars annually (net) to state and local governments primarily related to a decline in the number of marijuana offenders held in state prisons and county jails” would occur. As the secondhand smoke haze grew, so would the piles of cash in local coffers.

Many questions remain unanswered. For example, what effect do the smoke and odor associated with growing this stuff have on non-users? No one knows, so $2 million per year of proposed revenue would be provided to the UC San Diego Center for Medical Cannabis Research to study medical marijuana.

But what about casual users? Of course if researchers found out marijuana was really bad, as they did with tobacco, it would be too late to protect innocent people who were exposed to it.

Plants used for medical use are professionally grown; homegrown pot would be like home brew; some batches are good, some bad.

So, what is the role of local government? The government’s role is to protect the community. The Lompoc city staff was recommending a series of restrictions, permits and associated fees to assure grow operations are conducted safely.

For example, it is common knowledge that when marijuana is grown inside a building, grow lights may be necessary. So the city was requiring an electrical permit if permanent lighting was installed; this seems reasonable since permits are required for all electrical work.

The city also wanted to issue annual permits to growers and establish a compliance inspection program to ensure permit conditions are met “prior to issuing or renewing a permit."

Now I would have to agree that merely having six plants in your house isn’t much. Heck, I have that many plants (not pot) in my house already, and no one has ever made me have a permit. But, house plants are not intoxicating and unless you eat one, they aren’t known to be harmful to people.

The draft resolution states that the “City retains its police powers and land use authority to regulate or ban marijuana activities, including commercial marijuana operations, cultivation, distribution and consumption for the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Lompoc.

The council already banned medical marijuana dispensaries in 2007 and reaffirmed it in 2016.

So, what will the council do? At this hearing, it rejected professional input from the staff and instead created another ad hoc committee to, as Council Member Victor Vega put it, “see if we can come up with a more sensible ordinance that’ll be good for everything.”

So, once again a committee comprised of people who have no technical knowledge of the subject will try to craft city policy.

All we have to do to see how this works is review what happened when the City Council rejected staff input and allowed the use of safe and sane fireworks?

Did people suddenly stop using the illegal kind? No, the use of illegal fireworks went up significantly and no one seemed to follow the rules for using safe and sane. So, what makes anybody think pot users will follow any new rules?

I would urge the City Council to fulfill its responsibility to the public on this matter. There are too many unanswered questions concerning the long-term effects of this plant and its combustion byproducts to allow its immediate use in close proximity to children and non-user adults.

As a non-user, non-smoker I have a right to live my life without having to ingest potentially harmful substances, and it is the government’s responsibility try to reduce inadvertent, unwanted exposures.

Is the staff proposal “a lot of overreaching, and it doesn’t glide with the spirit of what Proposition 64 was,” as Council Member Jim Mosby said? Maybe, but probably not.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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