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Marijuana Regulations Creating Buzz In North County Supervisors Race

Customers buy products at a medical marijuana dispensary, April 20, 2016.

Credit: Associated Press

Above: Customers buy products at a medical marijuana dispensary, April 20, 2016.

This year, the cannabis industry can legally throw money into politics in California, and candidates can legally accept it. One race where marijuana money may flow is the race to replace San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn.

The Outliers Collective is just that: it’s in an outlying warehouse just east of El Cajon city boundaries in unincorporated San Diego County. It is one of the few legally licensed medicinal marijuana operations in the region.

“We cultivate,” said CEO Lincoln Fish. "We extract or manufacture products, we dispense and we can also do distribution elsewhere.“

But Fish said Outliers has a problem: San Diego’s County Supervisors approved zoning to allow a handful of legalized cannabis operations in 2010, but then rescinded that decision last year.

“Everybody was on board,” he said, “and then Kristin Gaspar won and she took a totally different approach and basically shot us down.”

Supervisors Ron Roberts and Greg Cox supported regulation, and Horn and Dianne Jacob opposed regulation. After defeating Democrat Dave Roberts in 2016, Gaspar became the swing vote on the board. She used it last year to vote for a marijuana moratorium. Dave Roberts had been the critical third vote for allowing a limited number of licensed dispensaries in unincorporated areas.

“What happened was, the county said, ‘We’re going to ban and we’re going to allow for the operations currently in place to be grandfathered in for a five-year period,’” Fish said. “We need votes.”

Bill Horn’s 5th District Seat

Marijuana money is likely to play a significant role in this year’s elections. A handful of cannabis companies like Outlier have much at stake, depending on who gets elected to the county board of supervisors.

With an uncertain future, the industry is looking at two seats opening up on the county board, which controls land use in the unincorporated county. One of those seats is currently held by long-time supervisor Horn, who voted for a ban but will be termed out. His district stretches from Camp Pendleton and Rancho Santa Fe in the west to Borrego Springs in the east.

Jim Desmond, mayor of San Marcos

Running to replace him in North County ‘s 5th District is San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond. Desmond, a Republican, also voted last year for a complete marijuana ban in his city.

“The citizens of San Marcos came forward and said, ‘We don’t want any dispensaries,’” Desmond said, “and quite frankly, you can grow six plants in your own house, every household can grow six plants for their own use.”

Before legalizing commercial marijuana operations in San Diego, Desmond said he wants to see marijuana legalized by the federal government. He said he might be open to some commercial cultivation, in facilities approved by the sheriff, but he is not in favor of allowing other aspects of the business, like dispensaries.

“If and when marijuana becomes acknowledged as a medical use by the federal government, then growing it becomes possible by the pharmacies,” he said.

Photo by Alison St John

Cannabis Cultivation at Outliers Collective, Jan 29th 2018

Jerry Kern, Oceanside city councilman

Oceanside City Councilman Jerry Kern, also a Republican, is running against Desmond for Horn’s seat on the county board.

“I think San Marcos is wrong,” Kern said. “And I think the county is wrong by just outright banning."

“Let’s talk about cannabis,” Kern said, “because if you really want to talk about a bright line between Mayor Desmond and myself, that is the issue. I voted against medical, I voted against recreational, but my job as an elected public official is to follow the vote of the people: it got 57 percent of the vote in the state and 57 percent in the city of Oceanside. It got 55 percent in San Marcos.”

Early last year, Kern suggested setting up a Medicinal Marijuana Ad Hoc Committee, in Oceanside.

“I reached across the aisle to work with Deputy Mayor Lowery, who’s a Democrat, and said, ‘OK, let’s come up with a good plan,’” Kern said.

The ad hoc committee has been working on an ordinance to allow commercial cultivation, testing, and sale of medicinal marijuana at a limited number of dispensaries in Oceanside.

“I know my colleagues would like to stop it,” Kern said at a city council meeting in December to review the recommendations, “but you’re standing on the track and the train is coming full speed.”

The ordinance is scheduled to come up for a vote before the Oceanside City Council soon.

Esther Sanchez, Oceanside city councilwoman.

One of the Oceanside City Council members who is not in favor of this ordinance is Democrat Esther Sanchez, the third candidate running for Horn’s supervisory seat.

“This dialogue needs to be city-wide and we need to address the impact to police, to fire, to youth,” Sanchez said. “I’ve been working with youth for a very long time on alcohol, and drug abuse, so of course it includes marijuana.”

Association of Cannabis Professionals

Democrats have typically been the ones to support regulating cannabis, but not in this case, said Dallin Young of the Association of Cannabis Professionals. Young said Sanchez’ concerns about how cannabis affects youth are valid, but maintaining a blanket ban will only make the problem worse.

“By taking the product and the market away from the black market and putting it into vested owners that are putting money into it and have gone through the conditional use permitting process, or any kind of permitting process — that’s a much safer system than the black market, which is going to continue to proliferate with bans,” Young said.

Young said his association is working with candidates, many of whom have not had to think through the policy issues associated with marijuana legalization. He said the association will support those open to rethinking a hardline stance.

“This year is pretty much the first year that that door is completely open,” Young said. “We are trying to bring in candidates to meet the business folks and vice versa, so they can get rid of the stereotypes that have existed in this industry for so long.”

Lincoln Fish is investing in LED lights for his growing operations, which will be cheaper than high-pressure sodium lights in the long run. He’s also planning to financially support certain political candidates this year, to make sure his company has a future. He’ll back the candidate who is open to regulating commercial cannabis operations.

“And has shown that he’s not one of our current Board of Supervisors, which is a ‘Reefer Madness’ board of supervisors,” Fish said.

Fish is not willing to put a dollar figure on how much he might spend on political campaigns.

“It’s hard to say,” he said, “but it wouldn’t surprise me if it runs into six figures.”

Young said the Outliers Collective is only one of a number of now-legal cannabis operations that plan to jump into the political fray this year.

4th District

The Fifth Supervisors District is one of two county supervisors’ districts changing hands this year. Ron Roberts is also termed out of the 4th District, which includes downtown.

The 4th District race is more crowded, with six candidates running.

Ron Roberts has historically voted in favor of regulating commercial cannabis activities rather than banning it, so the industry is hoping for a candidate who will maintain that vote.

This year, the cannabis industry can legally throw money into politics in California, and candidates can legally accept it. One race where marijuana money may flow is the race to replace San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn.


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