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Riverside County marijuana ordinanceWith California voters likely to approve a ballot measure regulating recreational marijuana in November, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to evaluate the county’s options should the measure pass.

The board took the responsible step of calling for a multi-agency evaluation of the county’s options of the legalization initiative, Proposition 64, as well as the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which state lawmakers approved last year.

Such an evaluation will lay out the county’s options to either “continue existing restrictions, add new regulations, or take advantage of new revenue opportunities through the taxation of either the cultivation or sale of marijuana” under the laws, according to the memo introducing the proposal.

Currently, the county prohibits commercial cultivation, marijuana dispensaries and deliveries of medical marijuana. Both the state-approved medical marijuana regulations and the pending recreational marijuana initiative give local governments considerable control over whether to allow marijuana cultivation and related businesses.

Much of the concern among the county officials revolved around Prop. 64 and the prospect of greater marijuana use and related problems.

“There will be a cost to this county in several different areas,” noted Jay Orr, county executive officer. “The question is: Will there be revenue to cover that cost?”

Bringing the marijuana market above ground and subjecting it to taxation certainly has the potential to yield considerable revenues. However, this is only possible if marijuana is indeed legalized and if the ensuing regulatory and taxation schemes are reasonable enough to encourage participation in the legal market.

At the very least, it’s a welcomed sign that Riverside County is open to considering its options. San Bernardino County recently reiterated its own bans would remain in place regardless of the outcome of Prop.64.

San Bernardino County supervisors raised concern about the possibility the county would miss out on revenue and economic opportunities. They should revisit the discussion.

Ultimately, it’s important to pursue options that truly minimize harm, something the current prohibitionist approach fails to do.

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