The Board of Supervisors Tuesday directed staff to research how to establish a process for revocation of licenses granted to marijuana merchants in unincorporated Riverside County communities for failure to open their outlets under the conditions that they promised.
“This is about the policies and procedures of dealing with cannabis store owners who come before us and make promises, then walk away from the project,” Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said ahead of the 5-0 vote in favor of his proposal. “This is to evaluate how we deal with these business owners, who have already received approval, as well as those who may be coming forward with new proposals.”
The supervisor said that nearly two dozen cannabis business permits have been authorized by the board since December 2019, but of those, “only two have actually opened.”
One of the unopened outlets, “Empire Connect” in Lakeland Village, was strongly opposed by residents when it came before the board in January 2021. According to Jeffries, who supported it only after receiving assurances from the proprietors that they would be making improvements to the space intended for marijuana sales, there has been no modification to the site, which “continues to be a nuisance for graffiti and debris, and until recently was surrounded with an unattractive mesh fencing.”
Jeffries displayed pictures showing the dilapidated condition of the concrete building and surrounding premises at Grand Avenue and Macy Street.
“Hundreds of our community members petitioned and argued that this dispensary’s location would be dangerous and disruptive,” Lakeland Village resident Judy Lippold told the board. “It’s detrimental to our residents’ way of life. We again wish to be clear as a community: this dispensary is (engaging in) an unacceptable business practice. It is an eyesore, and the owners have displayed a total lack of interest.”
The head of the operation, Christopher Henry, protested that nothing in the development agreement that Empire Connect entered into with the county specified “a time for when the property had to be developed.”
“We have dumped over $1.8 million into this project,” he told the board. “Our stores are very high-end.”
He said that “supply chain” interruptions had put a crimp in development, but that it was still on track.
Jeffries said he was not singling out Empire Connect for public humiliation, but he said the project was illustrative of similar problems impacting other locations, and he feared it would become a runaway trend without changes in county regulations.
“This one will likely require code enforcement action,” he said. “We have a good case for one.”
The supervisor said that while the county has provisions for expeditiously revoking a permit after a business opens and fails to meet its obligations, there is no clear policy in effect for contending with “cannabis licensees who have not yet opened their business, or who have abandoned their site entirely.”
At the board’s direction, the Office of County Counsel and Transportation & Land Management Agency will identify methods that might be applied to remedy the problem. Staff must return to the board in 90 days with a report.
In addition to Lakeland Village, the board has signed off on cannabis dispensaries and manufacturing facilities in the unincorporated communities of Bermuda Dunes, Coronita, East Hemet, Green Acres, Highgrove, Lakeland Village, Mead Valley, Temescal Valley, Thousand Palms and Winchester.
In January, Jeffries asked TLMA to stop bringing proposed conditional use permits for cannabis facilities approved by the county Planning Commission to the board because of the glut of permits authorized but not acted on, locking up space that otherwise could be utilized by other businesses.
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.