Cannabis Grow House - Photo courtesy of Richard T Yovh on Unsplash

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved an indoor commercial cannabis cultivation operation on five acres in the unincorporated Riverside County community of Sage, the first such facility authorized in the area.

In a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Karen Spiegel absent, the board signed off on Isen Garden LLC’s requests for a conditional use permit and development agreement, and modified the location’s zoning classification to clear the way for cannabis cultivation using greenhouses.

The operation will 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. Most of the opposition was related to water consumption required by the facility. The commission ultimately voted 4-0 in favor of recommending it to the board.

According to the Transportation & Land Management Agency, the project will 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 will be 1,200 square feet set aside for processing cannabis, including trimming and packaging, while the second floor of the structure will consist of three fully enclosed greenhouses, totaling 6,500 square feet, the TLMA said.

Other space will be reserved for offices and storage.

Sixteen solar arrays will 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 will have to be installed to provide the required irrigation of the marijuana plants. The agency said the irrigation system will depend on “rainwater harvesting, water reclamation and water recycling” to function.

The husband and wife owners of the property told the board that 97% of the water expended for irrigation will be recycled.

As a condition of their development agreement with the county, the proprietors have promised to make upgrades to Willow Creek Road, which is all-dirt and suffers from lack of upkeep.

The location had been designated “rural residential,” but the board voted to change the designation to “light agriculture” to pave the way for the cultivation operation.

According to the TLMA, the business will run 24/7, with 10 employees at the site during regular business hours. The owners will be caretakers, living on the premises in an existing 2,340-square-foot residence. A security guard will also be at the business daily, with surveillance cameras and motion sensors available, officials said.

The facility will 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 10-year conditional use permit and development agreement, Isen Garden will be required to make a first-year public benefits payment to the county totaling $38,846. An ongoing annual payment of $45,000 will 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 in and around the site.

The terms are similar to what the county has established with cannabis dispensaries operating in unincorporated areas, including 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.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.