In a 3-2 vote, the Board of Supervisors Tuesday rejected a proposal to reduce zoning requirements for commercial cannabis operations in Riverside County, based on concerns that too many in one space might negatively impact other businesses in the immediate vicinity.

Following a roughly two-hour hearing, the board denied a proposed change to Ordinance No. 348, which requires a minimum 1,000-feet buffer for cannabis outlets in unincorporated communities that are zoned for commercial use. Approval of the modification would have reduced the buffer to 250 feet.

The proposal was wedded to a conditional use permit application submitted by a cannabis supplier, Excel Riverside, whose proprietor sought to open a 3,950-square-feet marijuana retail outlet near the intersection of Center Street and Iowa Avenue in Highgrove, just east of Riverside.

Because another recently approved cannabis shop is less than a thousand feet away, the board was asked to alter Ordinance No. 348 to relax the buffering requirement, thereby permitting Excel Riverside to open for business.

“This change is not just in my district; it’s countywide,” Supervisor Karen Spiegel said, noting that she supported the proposed operation but didn’t like revising an ordinance exclusively for a single business in one place.

Supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Chuck Washington felt the same way.

“I’m hesitant to jump on this because of the experiences I’ve had in my district,” Jeffries said.

He pointed to the dozens of illegal cannabis dispensaries that at one time propagated in confined areas within the First District, particularly Mead Valley and near Lake Elsinore. The supervisor also believed the proposed change was too soon, with the county’s comprehensive regulatory framework on the books for just over a year and county staff struggling to complete the vetting processes.

“This is a countywide impact, and I’m not ready for 250 feet (separation),” he said. “We’re crawling still. We haven’t started walking with this (regulatory) program.”

Board Chairman Manuel Perez backed the proposal, citing what he described as the successes in Desert Hot Springs, where cannabis retailers are co-located.

Supervisor Jeff Hewitt agreed, saying rolling back the distance requirements was another means of opening “the free market.”

“Competition is the greatest thing,” Hewitt said. “You can grow marijuana in your home (under Proposition 64). Yeah, there some crime issues in Highgrove, but the applicant here is going to have armed security guards. I am for this.”

Jeffries said he would likely be supportive of a future proposal that allows side-by-side “clustering” of marijuana dispensaries in areas zoned as industrial or light industrial, well away from traditional merchants and residential areas.

“They’re doing it in Lake Elsinore,” he said. “I think we should examine the concept of clustering.”

Jeffries, Washington and Spiegel voted against the proposed ordinance changes and conditional use permit for the business. Hewitt and Perez voted in favor.

It was not immediately clear whether county staff would be bringing forward a clustering proposal for the board to consider in the future.

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