The San Diego County Board of Supervisors declined to take action on a proposal that would end a ban on cannabis businesses in unincorporated areas of the county and establish the framework for a social equity program in a regulated marijuana industry. The motion to approve the proposal from Supervisor Nathan Fletcher died a quick death at a meeting on Wednesday when it failed to receive a second from any of his colleagues on the board.

Fletcher’s proposal would have ended a ban on commercial cannabis activity enacted by the board in 2017. Under that ban, no recreational cannabis businesses are permitted to operate in the unincorporated areas of California’s southwestern-most county. Additionally, five medical marijuana dispensaries currently operating would be forced to close by 2022.

After the meeting, Fletcher issued a statement expressing his disappointment in his fellow board members, calling out one vocal cannabis opponent by name and noting that the proposal enjoyed support from many civic leaders in the county.

“Our proposal would have allowed for the development of a cannabis industry that is safe, regulated, and legal. Instead, led by Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, the Board doubled down on an outdated and out-of-touch view of legal cannabis,” Fletcher said in an email. “By saying no to  creating a regulated market, they have opened the floodgates for more illegal shops, more criminal activity, and substantial losses in tax revenue to our county.”

“They not only rejected a bi-partisan coalition of elected officials, vital agricultural leaders like the San Diego County Farm Bureau, but they also rejected our veterans and seniors who rely on cannabis for the medical treatment of chronic pain,” he continued. “I can only hope a future Board of Supervisors will allow us to advance common-sense cannabis policy that puts social justice squarely at the front.”

Activists Look To November

With the failure of Fletcher’s plan, San Diego County cannabis activists have set their sights on the upcoming election as their next chance to affect change. With two open seats due to term limits and Gaspar vying for reelection, the makeup of the board is sure to change after the election. Tara Lawson-Remer, a candidate running against Gaspar for her seat in November, said that she was disappointed by the board’s rejection of the proposal.

“We need a commonsense approach to cannabis policy,” she wrote in a statement to High Times. “The most effective way to eliminate illicit cannabis operations, expand the tax base, and support our regional economy is licensed and regulated operations to facilitate safe, regulated, and legal cannabis use.”

Fletcher’s proposal was supported by a strong majority of those who posted public comments online before the meeting and via telephone while it was being held. Activists also staged a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, calling on the board of supervisors to adopt the proposal, which included social equity provisions that would have helped members of underrepresented communities participate in the legal cannabis industry.

Ebony Lee of Paving Great Futures, a community group that advocates for inclusion in the legal cannabis industry, said in an email Thursday morning that the board’s inaction represents a missed opportunity.

“What we witnessed yesterday could and should have been history in the making. To finally see the board of supervisors get it right under Nathan Fletcher’s leadership would have been amazing,” said Lee. “But it’s disheartening to have had our issues once again be ignored and delayed.”

However, not all San Diego County cannabis activists disagree with the board of supervisors’ decision to keep the ban in place, believing that Fletcher’s proposal did not go far enough. Sapphire Blackwood of Blackwood Consulting Professionals told High Times in an email that true social equity will not be possible until licensing requirements are no longer linked to land use ordinances and that a new regulatory regime is needed.

“The zoning ordinances are good for business (lawyers, lobbyists, architects), but at what cost?” she asked. “Given that the law enforcement unions are a big lobbying component of most if not all of the cannabis ordinances in this state, I would be shocked if any jurisdiction approved a truly equitable law allowing for a free market, automatic expungements, taxes going to research and development and underserved youth, and no more cannabis arrests.”

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