Begin review of marijuana regulations
By Daniel Borsuk
Retailers of menthol and flavored tobacco products that are located within 1,000 feet of a public, private school, playground, park, or library in Contra Costa County will be required to sell off their inventory by the end of 2017 now that the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 on Tuesday to approve an ordinance creating tobacco sales restrictions and a cap on tobacco retail licenses.
Supervisors limited the number of tobacco retailers in unincorporated Contra Costa at 90.
Supervisors drafted the ordinance after conducting public hearings on how menthol and flavored tobacco products have serious health consequences for teenagers congregating at schools, playgrounds, parks or libraries that are within 1,000 feet from a store selling those tobacco products that are known to lead to heart and cancer health problems later on in life.
Some of the ordinance’s provisions include:
- Failure to obey the new law could mean a retail license suspension of 30 days for the first violation, up to 90 days for a second violation within two years after the first violation, and up to one year for a third and subsequent violation within two years after the first violation.
- Although the county tobacco law sets requirements on the how retailers sell cigars, including little cigars that must be sold in a package of at least 10 cigars, the ordinance states “This requirement does not apply to cigars that have a sale price of at least $5.”
- The ordinance bans retailers from posting tobacco displays on their premises.
- The law prohibits pharmacies from selling tobacco products.
- The ordinance also requires retailers to “examine the identification of a person who reasonably appears to under the age of 27 before the tobacco retailers sells tobacco products or paraphernalia to that person.”
“The National Association of Tobacco Outlets opposes this ordinance,” said Jaime Rojas, a NATO representative, “because it represents a bad case of government overreach. You are forcing retailers to sell off an inventory within six months or face consequences.”
“You are taking a big step towards improving public health,” said Dr. Phillip Gardner of the University of California at San Francisco. He hailed the supervisors action because it will help reduce the influence of menthol flavored tobacco products especially on the African American community.
During the supervisors’ meeting, nothing was disclosed about how the ordinance will be enforced between the Sheriff’s Department, Health Department and perhaps Planning Department and at what cost to county taxpayers.
“Currently we have no idea what the costs will be to enforce this ordinance,” County Administrator David Twa told the Contra Costa Herald after supervisors voted. “Just wait when the board adopts the recreational marijuana ordinance (see item below). Expenses will go up dramatically then.”
“We will not begin enforcement on whether a retailer is within the 1,000-foot buffer until Jan. 1,” said District 2 Supervisor Candace Andersen of Danville.
In the meantime, the passage of the ordinance put retailers on notice they should not be reordering flavored tobacco products if they are located within the 1,000-foot buffer zone, said District 1 Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond.
Review of Marijuana Regulations
In other business, Supervisors also kickstarted the review process on how to regulate commercial cannabis enterprises in unincorporated Contra Costa County in compliance with the voter approved State Proposition 64, the legalization of recreational marijuana sales.
During the presentation, supervisors were shown eight preliminary land use maps of where outdoor and indoor cannabis enterprises could potentially operate in unincorporated county.
Planning officials were instructed to present at a future meeting revised land used maps showing other buffer configurations.
The board voted 5-0 to permit County Administrator David Twa to negotiate with the consulting firm of Hinderliter, de Llamas & Associates to prepare a study with recommendations on options for taxation for various cannabis activities.
Twa did not disclose what the county will pay the Hinderliter, de Llamas & Associates because the price has yet to be negotiated. Twa said information from the Hinderliter, de Llamas & Associates study would be used to draft a proposed countywide cannabis tax measure that would need to go before voters at the next general election, November 2018.
“If the tax fails to pass, so does the marijuana law in the county,” Twa told supervisors.
Gita Dombroski, owner of an Oakland cannabis nursery who said he has $4 million in the bank and wants to expand his nursery operations into Contra Costa County, warned supervisors that they are heading in the wrong direction by potentially levying high taxes.
“You need to be realistic. Your taxes are going to be too be too high and they will dissuade prospective businesses from coming to your county,” he said.
Instead of investing in Contra Costa County, Dombroski said he will open up another nursery in Oakland.
Cannabis proponent Max Fogarty objected to the county proposal of establishing a 1,000-foot buffer between cannabis businesses and public and private schools, parks, playgrounds and libraries, and a 500 foot distance from existing tobacco retail establishments.
“Why 1,000 feet from a school, playground or library. It does not make sense,” said Fogarty
“Not everyone feels the way you do. We need to protect our communities” said Gioia in defense of the buffers.