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County supervisors move to halt commercial marijuana cultivation

Concerned about a possible influx of commercial medical marijuana farms, Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to put a temporary moratorium on cultivation of the crop in county unincorporated areas and to study a permanent ban.

Last year, California's legislature passed a package of bills that established a statewide regulatory structure overseeing the medical cannabis industry, but left room for cities and counties to set up stricter local regulations.

The new state laws designate medical marijuana as a crop like others, subject to the same regulations on water and insecticide use.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said the county had since begun to receive inquiries about permitting medical marijuana production.

Medical marijuana storefront dispensaries are already banned in county unincorporated areas. The 45-day moratorium, which the supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to direct county attorneys to draft, covers cultivation, manufacturing and laboratory testing.

But the supervisors held off applying a similar moratorium to mobile delivery services, after some expressed concerns that they would be cutting off patients with legitimate prescriptions who have mobility issues.

"There are a number of people with legal prescriptions who may have glaucoma, people with AIDS, elderly people who may have trouble going and picking up any kind of prescription," said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

Kuehl joined her colleagues in voting for the moratorium on production.

The county has had a pitched battle with some landowners over regulations on another crop -- grapes grown for wine. The supervisors in 2014 banned new vineyards in an 81-square-mile coastal portion of the Santa Monica Mountains and last year set strict limitations on wine-growing operations in the northern portion of the mountains, citing concerns about water use and environmental effects.

Kuehl, who represents that area, said she has the same concerns about marijuana crops.

Antonovich, who proposed the moratorium, wrote that apart from potential environmental effects, commercial marijuana production in public view, "increases the risk of trespassing and burglary, and acts of violence."

A handful of medical marijuana proponents and opponents weighed in. 

"As a mother, I am concerned. As a professional, I am concerned," said Dolores Ruiz, a manager with SPIRITT Family Services, a Whittier-based nonprofit that provides mental health counseling. "Our kids, our youth are very creative. They know they can get these cards. They know they can get the marijuana."

Tyler Strause, a Los Angeles resident whose family has a business selling hemp-based supplements, said he advocates for medical marijuana because it helped his father when he was dying of brain cancer.

"For two years, I watched him die, and the only product that provided him with relief was medical marijuana," Strause said. 

During the 45-day moratorium period, staff will study the economic and environmental effects of medical marijuana production and recommend how to approach land use regulations.


Twitter: @sewella


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