County Planning and Development will take over cannabis business licensing from Sheriff’s Department
Cannabis business licensing in San Diego County will move from the Sheriff’s Department to the county’s Planning & Development Services, substantially lowering fees for the service.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to transfer responsibility for the licenses for existing legal marijuana businesses, switching it from a law enforcement to a code enforcement function.
“Many other jurisdictions have made similar transitions or established new cannabis licensing programs housed within planning or development services departments,” the board letter on the item said.
The decision is part of a broader plan to expand cannabis licensing in the unincorporated county. It affects the five existing legal marijuana operations but doesn’t include measures to authorize or regulate new businesses.
Until now, sheriff’s deputies have been responsible for conducting background checks on personnel with cannabis businesses, as well as safety, security and compliance inspections of their operations. Under the new system, code enforcement officers will perform those tasks, using the same Live Scan system that deputies have used.
The change will cut license fees by about two-thirds, from $49,460 under the Sheriff’s Department to $16,673 with Planning & Development Services, and will take effect on Dec. 16. Business operators will receive prorated refunds for the difference between the fees they already paid this year and the reduced fees under the new system.
Although they don’t all agree on plans to expand cannabis operations in the unincorporated area, supervisors said the change would free up sheriff’s deputies time for law enforcement by relieving them of administrative duties. Supervisor Jim Desmond said he disagrees with legalized marijuana but believes licensing can be handled safely by code enforcement officers.
“The reality is we need the sheriff’s department to focus on what they do, which is keeping us safe,” Board Chair Nathan Fletcher said. “We want them to continue to focus on cracking down on illegal and unlicensed cannabis operations in the unincorporated area, and we want to provide a reliable business process and permit.”
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