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Placer to consider policy change to allow medical cannabis research lab

August 16, 2017

Placer County will explore a change to its cannabis regulations that could allow for a scientific research facility to study the medical efficacy of cannabis.

Direction to county staff to determine what changes to the rules might be necessary to allow such a facility was provided by the county Board of Supervisors at their meeting today in Auburn. The board received an update from District 3 Supervisor Jim Holmes on ongoing discussions around the county’s cannabis ordinance by the Medical Cannabis Policy Workgroup.

The board approved the county’s current cannabis regulations in November 2016, banning all commercial cannabis activity and allowing limited cannabis cultivation for personal use only. Approving the ordinance, the board called for the creation of the Medical Cannabis Policy Workgroup to continue the conversation about the county’s policy to ensure that it permits Placer County’s residents safe patient access to medical cannabis in balance with the broader community interests around effective regulation.

The workgroup is comprised of key Placer County staff and industry representatives, including District 3 Supervisor Jim Holmes; Board of Supervisors Chair and District 5 Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery; Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Oldham; Agricultural Commissioner Josh Huntsinger; Director of Environmental Health, Public Health and Animal Services Wesley Nicks; Deputy County Executive Officer Bekki Riggan; Chief Building Official Timothy Wegner; and Children's System of Care Public Educator Christina lvazes; as well as non-Placer County participants Kimberly Cargile, patient advocate and CEO of A Therapeutic Alternative; and Casey Brown, Board Director for the Placer County Growers Association.

Placer contracted with leading cannabis policy expert Matt Eaton of HdL Companies to facilitate the workgroup. Eaton spent more than five years working with Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division and is a retired 20-year law enforcement officer.

The workgroup met eight times between March and August, discussing all aspects of medical cannabis policy and regulation.

Holmes presented a report of the workgroup’s findings over the past few months, opening up discussion with the rest of the board on whether any changes should be considered to the county’s cannabis ordinance specifically related to safe patient access to medical cannabis.

“We’re going very slowly, taking measured steps,” Holmes said of the board’s regulation of cannabis. “If the board takes any action to change our policy, it’ll still be very strict.”

While the board did not support allowing medical cannabis dispensaries, District 1 Supervisor Jack Duran proposed allowing a research facility to study the medical efficacy of cannabis that could inform future policy in Placer County in beyond, which was broadly supported.

“For me, I want to focus on an option that will provide immediate benefit," Duran said. “One opportunity I see here is to advance scientific research and testing to better understand the medicinal benefits of cannabinoids found in cannabis.”

The board also heard a report from Chief Building Official Tim Wegner, who oversees the county’s code compliance efforts on cannabis. Since May, the county has received 76 complaints related to cannabis, he reported, with 37 resolved with full compliance, 19 still under review and 20 still awaiting review. In only one case, he said, had the cultivator resisted compliance.

Placer staff are expected to return to the board in the coming weeks with more details on what may be necessary to support the proposed lab.

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