As the medical marijuana business enjoys success in an emerging cannabis-friendly climate, one California county is deciding to fight back. Pot fields are purportedly popping up like weeds next to schools, group homes and in abandoned barns, according to local government officials in Sacramento County. After receiving a number of complaints, Sacramento County Supervisors will set to ban marijuana farms, citing them as a public nuisance.
California is one of 18 states where medical marijuana is legal. State laws are not clear or specific about who can grow and sell for this purpose, leading to messy marketplace of sketchy pot dispensaries, illegal cannabis farms and prescriptions written by doctors that are not closely examining whether patients truly need the drug for medicinal purposes.
As more states move toward policies and initiatives that purge marijuana prohibition, they can learn from places like California. Its challenges with building regulatory infrastructure around the growing medical marijuana industry have evoked public reaction.
Sacramento County Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan recognized a need to address the emerging public nuisance, saying that residents started expressing a large number of complaints about outdoor marijuana farms and gardens. She introduced the measure to ban marijuana gardens, explaining that “many were close to schools, group homes and other sensitive uses.”
The fields pose public safety concerns as well, with owners use weapons and dogs to ward off thieves and guard their property. MacGlashan said there are almost a dozen violent murder cases currently under prosecution in the county believed to be linked to marijuana theft attempts.
On Tuesday, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors unanimously supported MacGlashan’s ordinance, expressing an intent to approve it when it faces its final vote on May 13. A decision on whether to prohibit indoor cultivation will be postponed in order to look into whether this would be a violation of rights to medical marijuana patients growing the crop for personal use.
Sacramento County’s plan to snuff out the public nuisance and public safety issues posed by marijuana farms would apply to city of Sacramento and its surrounding unincorporated swaths of land, which are known for large lots and a semi-rural feel.
While the cash crop and its growing marketplace may be infiltrating areas with some unintended consequences, the returns are speaking loudly, especially for rural areas where growing potential reigns supreme. According to a recent report published in PolicyMic, some studies claim marijuana is the biggest cash crop in America, exceeding the value of corn ($23.3 billion) and wheat ($7.5 billion) combined.
Dispensaries have been operating in California for more than ten years. While California imposes a tax on marijuana sales, it is not regulating them. The state Board of Equalization estimates up to $105 million in annual sales tax revenue from dispensary sales alone.
As the first two states in the nation to fully legalize marijuana for recreational use, Colorado and Washington are boasting some high returns as well. Since January 1, Colorado has already generated enough marijuana tax revenue to contribute $40 million to the construction of public schools. Washington is projected to raise a staggering $190 million in taxes and fees over four years starting in mid-2015.
While Sacramento County sets to ban marijuana farms as they become a nuisance to the public and a threat to safety, the state of California is working to establish regulations to deal with its growing pains. Two bills are working their way through the legislature that would regulate the growth, sale and prescription of medical marijuana, but it has yet to be determined whether health officials or the alcoholic beverage control department should provide oversight on guidelines for cultivation and distribution.
By Erica Salcuni