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Riverside County Permits Cannabis Businesses

Note: Since this article was published there have been developments which are noted in updates in this article, including the update near the end of the article discussing the outcome and rankings of the staff evaluation of cannabis business applicants, and the quick appeal process from that evaluation.

The County of Riverside, California, first initiated the development of cannabis regulations in March 2018 – see Riverside County Takes Next Step Toward Legalization of Cannabis Businesses. On October 23, 2018, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved comprehensive commercial regulations permitting cannabis businesses largely consistent with the original recommendations from March 2018 – see the Riverside County Cannabis Regulations.

Rather than place a cannabis tax measure on the Riverside County ballot for November 2018, the Board of Supervisors mandated that each commercial cannabis business enter into a separately negotiated Cannabis Development Agreement.

On December 26, 2018, Riverside County began taking cannabis applications for commercial cannabis manufacturing, distribution, testing laboratories, and wholesale cannabis nurseries only.

Although there are zoning and locational restrictions for these cannabis uses, there is no deadline to apply or limitation on how many permits can be issued in these categories. Further, Riverside County’s standard conditional use permit application process will apply to cannabis businesses with the same fee structure as any other general conditional use permit. See Riverside Planning Development Fee Schedule and read more about Riverside County Development Applications.

Riverside County banned outdoor cannabis cultivation (section 17.302.090), however, it permitted outdoor cannabis wholesale nurseries (section 17.302.130), subject to zoning and regulation – see Riverside County Cannabis Cultivation Regulations.

Riverside County did not define “wholesale nurseries.” California Business and Professions Code section 26100 (aj) provides “”Nursery” means a licensee that produces only clones, immature plants, seeds, and other agricultural products used specifically for the propagation and cultivation of cannabis.” The State law definition is applicable as Riverside County requires a California state cannabis license. See section 17.302.060 of the Riverside County Cannabis Regulations.

Cannabis Retail Sales, Cultivation Activity, and Microbusinesses were specifically excluded from the December 26, 2018 cannabis application process. On January 30, 2019, Riverside County invited pre-registration for commercial cannabis cultivation or retail sales activity, including cannabis microbusinesses. Only cannabis business applicants who submitted a Pre-Registration Form by February 15, 2019 will be permitted to submit proposals for cannabis cultivation or retail sales. During the first year, Riverside County will only permit 19 or less Cannabis Retail Sales and/or 50 or less Cannabis Cultivation Activity businesses. Riverside County will schedule meetings for the pre-registered cannabis business applicants to assist in the preparation of proposals which will be reviewed and scored. The scoring system will be provided to the pre-registered applicants by County staff. Ultimately, the Board of Supervisors will award the final cannabis business permits, subject to applicable land use approvals. No timeline has been provided for this process. See the Riverside County Cannabis Implementation Process.

[UPDATE: On March 5, 2019, the Riverside County Planning Department presented a Cannabis Request for Proposal (“RFP”) Workshop which described the process and timeline for pre-registered commercial cannabis cultivation, retail, and microbusinesses (“Interested Parties”). See the RFP slideshow presentation from the Cannabis Request for Proposals workshop by the County of Riverside. The County received 118 cannabis retail applications, 62 cannabis cultivation applications, and 65 cannabis microbusiness applications. The RFP response submittal deadline is 4 pm, April 12, 2019. Currently, it is anticipated that the Board of Supervisors will award the final 19 cannabis retail permits and 50 cannabis cultivation permits, subject to applicable land use approvals, on or about June 25, 2019. The scoring system for the Request for Proposals is set forth in the instructions provided for each type of cannabis RFP including the Request for Proposals for Cannabis Retailers, the Request for Proposals for Cannabis Cultivation, the Request for Proposals for Cannabis Microbusinesses (these RFPs were revised by Riverside County on March 20, 2019).]

Mobile cannabis delivery continues to be banned in Riverside County – see section 9.64.050 of the Riverside County Cannabis Delivery Regulations. However, licensed commercial cannabis retailers, including non-storefront retailers, may provide cannabis delivery consistent with California state law (read more about California Cannabis Law). See section 17.302.200(D) of the Riverside County Cannabis Regulations. Under the new permanent California Cannabis Regulations issued by the state cannabis licensing authorities, this will permit licensed cannabis retailers to deliver cannabis statewide regardless of local regulations. See BCC Regulations to Permit California Cannabis Delivery Statewide as well as California Business and Professions Code Section 26090(e).

Cannabis microbusinesses are specifically authorized by Riverside County’s new commercial cannabis regulation. See section 17.302.230 of the Riverside County Cannabis Regulations. A microbusiness is required to have a minimum of three of four commercial cannabis uses (retail sales, cultivation activity, distribution, or manufacturing). See section 17.302.240(C)(4) of the Riverside County Cannabis Regulations.

Lastly, Riverside County is also permitting restricted temporary cannabis events. See section 17.302.250 of the Riverside County Cannabis Regulations.

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Riverside County is one of the largest counties in California, encompassing 7,300 square miles of river valleys, low deserts, mountains, foothills and rolling plains ranging from the Greater Los Angeles area to the Arizona border. Geographically, Riverside County has a Mediterranean climate in the western portion, but is mostly desert in the central and eastern portions. The unincorporated areas of Riverside County comprise about 6,375 square miles. Riverside County is the 4th most populous county in California with over 2 million residents. The County contains 28 incorporated cities. More than three-quarters of Riverside County’s land area lies outside these municipalities, as does 16 percent of the population.

UPDATE: June 19, 2019 – Riverside County Update regarding Retail, Cultivation and Microbusiness selection process. The paragraphs below are an update on the Riverside County cannabis selection process.

On June 17, 2019, the County of Riverside Planning Staff released the list ranking results for cannabis retail, cultivation, and microbusinesses. The County received 71 complete applications for cannabis retail, 30 complete applications for cannabis cultivation (indoor only), and 18 complete applications for cannabis microbusinesses. See the Cannabis Business Ranking Results for Riverside County.

County staff ranked 23 retail businesses to proceed to the next phase of cannabis licensing. Although the County is limiting retail cannabis businesses to 19, some of the applicants are within 1000 feet of each other which is a violation of the Riverside County Code, therefore the County staff is recommending all 23 cannabis businesses have the opportunity to process. The first applicant that receives approval from the Board of Supervisors will obtain a cannabis permit and any subsequent applicant within 1000 feet of the permitted business will not be awarded a permit.

As the County received only 30 completed cannabis cultivation applications, all of the applications are being recommended to proceed without a ranking by staff. The Board of Supervisors authorized up to 50 cannabis cultivation permits in the first year.

All cannabis microbusiness applications were considered as cannabis cultivation applications for the purposes of ranking even though most of the applications included a retail component as well. However, three of the microbusiness applicants were for properties located within 1000 feet of a ranked retail applicant location so they were ranked with the retail applicants and are not being recommended to proceed with the process. The other 15 cannabis microbusiness applicants are being recommended to proceed.

Unsuccessful cannabis business applicants do have an opportunity to appeal the County’s ranking recommendations no later than noon on Monday, June 24, 2019. The appeal must be received via email or hand-delivery by noon. A postmark will not be sufficient. The grounds for appeal are limited to: a) the RFP or its exhibits were ambiguous or inconsistent in a materially significant way and such ambiguity or inconsistency gave the selected Proposer(s) an unfair competitive advantage; or b) the selection process was unfair in that the County failed to follow the stated selection process which gave an unfair competitive advantage to the selected Proposer(s) and the selection process was not modified or waived pursuant to the RFP.

Staff recommendations will be presented to the Board of Supervisors on July 2, 2019. Once approved, the successful cannabis applicants will have 120 days to submit a conditional use permit package and Development Agreement with the County. After October 30, 2019, at 5 p.m., the County will not accept any conditional use permits for cannabis retail, cultivation or microbusiness from the applicants approved by the Board of Supervisors on July 2, 2019.

Contact us to learn more about Riverside cannabis licensing and regulation as well as California state, county or city cannabis licensing and regulations, cannabis regulatory compliance, and cannabis litigation.

Riverside County, California, approved commercial regulations permitting cannabis businesses including cannabis cultivation, retail, distribution, cannabis manufacturing, testing laboratories, nurseries and cannabis microbusinesses.

Legalizing Marijuana Has Created a Black Market Plaguing Riverside County

Transnational crime organizations growing pot counties, and in residential neighborhoods

By Michelle Mears, August 12, 2019 6:05 am

There is a new sheriff in Riverside County, and he is attacking the illegal marijuana cultivation that’s plaguing his community in Southern California. Sheriff Chad Bianco was elected in November 2018, and has taken on the growing black market with a vengeance.

The illegal industrial size marijuana grows are bringing in dangerous criminal elements, along with environmental hazards that together are creating a humanitarian crisis.

Quality of Life Disturbed by Illegals Grows

Before Sheriff Bianco was elected to lead the Riverside County Sheriff Department, he was stationed in the community of Hemet. It was at the Hemet station where he began to attend public meetings in the mountain community of Anza, a rural desert city in Riverside County where people ride horses, ATVs and everyone knows everyone.

Their way of life changed when the illegals growers moved in. Bianco said residents in the small country town were finding themselves confronted by armed men, pets were being killed, and water wells drained.

Sheriff Chad Bianco

“Anza is a desert community and everyone lives on the well system. Everyone’s wells were going dry and the commonality was they were surrounded by illegal grows,” said Bianco. “The residents came to us begging for help and we want to give them that.”

Residents in Anza and other Riverside County communities like Perris, Romoland, Deluz, and WoodCrest, would also complain about the stench from the large fields of cannabis.

People near the grows said they couldn’t open their windows; the smell of marijuana permeated the air conditioner units, their allergies were out of control, and some were forced to move.

Bianco said before he became Sheriff, the department was serving five to six warrants a week, but it wasn’t enough to conquer the thousands of grows in the county.

Now that Bianco is Sheriff, he is making it known that if you grow marijuana illegally, expect a visit from the Sheriff.

Environmental Disaster Created by Illegal Marijuana Grows

The criminals who operate illegal grows also destroy the environment, community, and wildlife.

Any water around the grows such as ponds, lakes, or streams, end up poisoned.

“They uses pesticides, rodent control, all kinds of chemicals on the plants and in the fields to kill off anything that may eat the marijuana plant,” said Bianco.

“The only thing living around one of these grows is the marijuana plant,” said Bianco. “We were in Anza last week on a 100-acre lot completely void of wildlife. There should be rabbits, mice, owls, and hawks. But we did find poison everywhere.”

The entire food chain in Riverside County is being affected when the operations use banned pesticides and other chemicals that rabbits and mice feed on. The poison goes up the chain and kills the coyotes, birds, mountain lions, bobcats, and deer. If there are any endangered species around the grows those too can be killed off.

Bianco is not alone in his fight against illegal grows in California. A group called the Integral Ecology Research Center has been a pioneer in the research on how cannabis cultivation has impacted the environment throughout the state of California. Illegal grows are popping up all over, including in state and federal parks and lands.

IERC is trying to help clean up the land poisoned by illegals growers who manipulate the forests and environment. This group began their studies in 2014 and expect to complete the research in 2020 for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Their work may be able to help communities like Anza.

In a report by the United States Department of Justice, Dr. Mourad Gabriel of IERC said: “California now has contaminated water, soil, plants and wildlife due to the clandestine actions of those cultivating marijuana on our public lands. We are at a precipice where we can either ignore the prologue of the past when public resources were illegally exploited for monetary gain or proactively conserve these national public lands for future generations to use and enjoy.”

Organized Crime and International Gangs Brought into Community

The groups running the illegals grows, according to the Sheriff, include Hispanic gangs, Asian Gangs, Cartels from Mexico, China and Russia. Last week two individuals from China were arrested at one of the saturation operations conducted by the Riverside County Sheriff Department.

Bianco said the county is still investigating who all the players are from whom they have already arrested.

“We also have sex trafficking, which is part of human trafficking, being linked to these operations, including torture,” said Bianco, who added that kidnapping, torture, murder and gun battles are common in a community with illegal grows.

The people who operate the organized crime end up living in the community, putting residents at risk, including children who are used to playing outside without danger of running into a poisoned, armed drug camp in their backyards.

Transnational crime organizations growing pot in Riverside County are also are growing in residential neighborhoods. In neighboring county San Bernardino, a federal grand jury in March returned a 19-count felony indictment charging two men with participating in a scheme, where nine residential homes in San Bernardino County were purchased, mostly with money wired from China, and then the homes were converted into illegal marijuana grow houses.

In an operation conducted earlier in July, the Riverside County Sheriffs Department assigned to tackle the illegal grows produced the following:

47,939 marijuana plants confiscated
2,132 pounds of processed marijuana
47 tons of marijuana plants disposed
2 Butane Honey Oil Labs located
71 firearms
49 arrests

The Sheriff’s Department worked with the following agencies to combat the illegal growers: Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, Riverside Police, Riverside County Gang Task Force, Department of Justice, Cal Fire, Riverside County Animal Services, CA Water Board, Environmental Health, Riverside County Code Enforcement, Riverside County Probation, City of Perris Code Enforcement, and the Riverside Sheriff’s Association for their assistance and partnership on a successful operation to combat illegal marijuana grows in the County of Riverside.

“We would also like to thank the California Army National Guard for use of their equipment and vehicles in the transportation and destruction of marijuana,” said Bianco.

If It’s Legal to Grow and Smoke Marijuana in California Why the Black Market?

The Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act also known as Proposition 64 was passed in 2016. This initiative was intended to curb the illegal use of marijuana and cut down on the criminal element. Instead, it did the opposite. Two new taxes were created with Prop. 64, with revenues supposed to go into the California Cannabis Tax Fund for Youth Education Prevention.

“It is an urban legend to think that making marijuana legal was going to curb the illegal activities,” said Bianco. “The greed of tax money has created a bigger problem.”

Criminals do not want to pay taxes, so those who are growing the large industrial marijuana fields are avoiding the laws and regulations set in place by the state. The illegal growers are also raising the THC levels and selling out of state.

The rules and regulations of pot for sale legally have also hurt the medicinal users of cannabis. They say the devil is the details and with Prop 64 as it allows local cities to regulate all pot. Many cities are unwilling to offer licenses to growers. The higher mark up due to taxes and regulations on legal marijuana also aide to the lure of the black market.

The city of Wildomar in Riverside County recently approved pot shops in town with a 3-2 vote. City Councilwoman Bridgette Moore was one of the two who voted against the ordinance.

“I don’t believe the taxes we receive from the legal pot shops will help our city,” said Moore. “I just hope we can raise enough taxes to offset the costs of shutting down the illegal shops. It is going to be like playing wack-a-mole.”

More than a year before the Prop. 64 vote, the Board of Supervisors approved Riverside County Ordinance 925. The ordinance prohibits marijuana cultivation in the unincorporated area, outside city boundaries. Ordinance 925 includes a limited exemption from enforcement for qualified medical marijuana patients and their primary caregivers.

Because the prohibition under Ordinance 925 remains in effect today, cultivating marijuana in unincorporated Riverside County remains illegal, beyond the limited exemptions in Ordinance 925 and Prop. 64.

What is legal under Prop 64?

The following answers most questions:

If you’re 21 or older, you can possess an ounce of pot and up to six plants in your home legally.

If you have a medical marijuana card you can have up to 12 plants in your home.

Each household and can have two adults 21 or older grow up to 12 plants each.

So two people each with a medical marijuana card can grow 24 plants total on their property.

Smoking pot in public is still against the law and so is driving while impaired by marijuana.

Local governments can ban commercial marijuana transactions by ordinance but if they approve the marijuana businesses, the local authorities can regulate them through zoning laws.

Medical dispensaries cannot sell to recreational users. Cultivators cannot legally sell it until they get licensed by the state.

There is a new sheriff in Riverside County, and he is attacking the illegal marijuana cultivation that’s plaguing his community in Southern California.