The Board of Supervisors Tuesday will consider a proposal for an indoor commercial cannabis cultivation operation on 5 acres in the unincorporated Riverside County community of Sage, where no such businesses are currently permitted.
Isen Garden LLC is seeking a conditional use permit, development agreement and a zoning modification to open the site for cannabis cultivation using greenhouses.
The operation would be situated in the area of Red Mountain and Willow Creek roads, one of the areas southeast of Hemet impacted by the recent 28,000-acre Fairview Fire.
The board has approved only one other indoor commercial cannabis cultivation site using greenhouses in the last two years. No outdoor cannabis farms have been approved.
During Planning Commission hearings in August, residents expressed both opposition and support for the Isen Garden project. The commission ultimately voted 4-0 in favor of recommending it to the board.
According to the Transportation & Land Management Agency, the project would entail construction of an 18,070-square-foot cultivation facility, with 3,000 square feet on the first floor dedicated to “grow rooms for vegetation, propagation and flowering plants.”
There would be 1,200 square feet set aside for processing cannabis, including trimming and packaging, while the second floor of the structure would consist of three fully enclosed greenhouses, totaling 6,500 square feet, the TLMA said.
Other space would be reserved for offices and storage.
Sixteen solar arrays would provide more than 90% of the energy required to meet the facility’s demands, officials said.
According to the TLMA, nine 5,000-gallon water tanks would have to be installed to provide the required irrigation of the marijuana plants. The agency said the irrigation system would depend on “rainwater harvesting, water reclamation and water recycling” to function.
“The subject property is located within a rural area bordering large properties that are vacant, dedicated to conservation or that similarly have residential and agricultural uses being maintained on-site,” according to a Planning Commission staff report.
The location is presently designated “rural residential,” so if the board authorizes the cultivation operation, the designation would have to be changed by the supervisors to “light agriculture.”
According to the TLMA, the operation would be 24/7, with 10 employees at the site during regular business hours and a caretaker living on site in an existing 2,340-square-foot residence. A security guard would also be at the business daily, with surveillance cameras and motion sensors available, officials said.
The facility would be for manufacturing only — not general distribution or sales of the product.
The county’s 2018 Marijuana Comprehensive Regulatory Framework, codified under Ordinance No. 348, provides for steps that prospective businesses must take to be eligible for permits. Safety and health safeguards are part of the regulatory system.
Under the proposed 10-year conditional use permit and development agreement, Isen Garden would be required to make a first-year public benefits payment to the county totaling $38,846. An ongoing annual payment of $45,000 would also be owed, increased 4% every year.
The payments are intended to offset the costs to the county of providing additional law enforcement, street maintenance and other services at the location.
The terms are similar to what the county has established with cannabis dispensaries operating in unincorporated areas.
Dispensaries have been approved in Bermuda Dunes, Coronita, East Hemet, Green Acres, Highgrove, Lakeland Village, Mead Valley, Temescal Valley, Thousand Palms and Winchester.
There are hemp farms near Sage. The main difference between hemp and unadulterated marijuana is the tetrahydrocannabinol — or THC — content. Hemp leaves have about three-tenths of 1% of the compounds contained in cannabis leaves, according to the Office of County Counsel.
Unlike cannabis, hemp is not federally designated as a controlled substance. An updated ordinance approved by the board in April specifies that hemp production is not allowed to be paired with cannabis grows.
Law enforcement personnel in several unincorporated communities have uncovered licensed hemp grows that were illegally converted to outdoor marijuana cultivation sites.