Socially Equitable Cannabis Program

Project Contact: Scott O' Dowd |  | Phone (858) 505-6677    
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Project Status

The County is taking steps to develop a Socially Equitable Cannabis Program (Program) and to increase enforcement against unpermitted and unlicensed cannabis facilities in the unincorporated areas.  

In a hearing that took place on October 6, 2021, the Board of Supervisors (Board) received a progress report on the Program, which is expected to launch in the second half of 2023. You can view the Hearing at this link and the supporting documents at this link. The Board also considered ordinance amendments that affect the five existing cannabis dispensaries that currently operate in the unincorporated area of the County and heard the recommendations made by the Planning Commission on August 6, 2021. The Board voted to adopt the proposed ordinance amendments with some modification. 

Names and locations of the five existing dispensaries, located in the Second and Fifth Supervisorial Districts, affected by the Board action are:  

  • Outliers Collective, 8157 Wing Ave, El Cajon  
  • Ramona Cannabis Co, 736 Montecito Way, Ramona  
  • Releaf Meds, 618 Pine St, Ramona  
  • Olive Tree Wellness Center/JAXX Cannabis, 1210 Olive St, Ramona  
  • San Diego Natural/OutCo, 8530 Nelson Way, Escondido 

The ordinance amendments adopted by the Board on October 6 will affect several sections of the Zoning Ordinance and the Code of Regulatory Ordinances. These changes will impact the five existing dispensaries by (1) allowing them to continue to operate past the “sunset” date of April 14, 2022, (2) allowing for commercial medical and commercial adult use cannabis sales, (3) allowing for building alterations and expansions up to 10,000 square feet through a ministerial building permit process, (4) exempting building alterations and expansions from the requirements of B Designator Community Design Review and S Designator Scenic, (5) allowing the transfer of Operating Certificates from existing Operating Certificate holders to others, (6) allowing the sale of edible and drinkable cannabis products, and (7) allowing the sale of branded merchandise. These ordinance amendments apply only to the five existing dispensaries that are currently in operation, and no new dispensaries will be permitted under these ordinance amendments.  

The Board will hold a second reading of the proposed changes to the Regulatory Code on October 20, 2021. The hearing will begin at 9:00 a.m. at the County Administration Center, Room 310. Any member of the public may participate in the Public Hearing pursuant to the regulations in place at the time of the meeting. Those wishing to participate in the meeting and/or comment should visit for information on how to do so. 

The amendments can be viewed in these files: 

A Notice of Exemption for the Board Action was filed on October 6, 2021, and may be viewed in this file

Stakeholder Engagement

9/9/2021 Public Webinar

9/13/2021 Public Webinar

Overview Presentation Slides

Stakeholder Outreach Presentation


February 11, 2021: Community Planning and Sponsor Group Chair Meeting  
February 11, 2021: Cannabis Industry Professionals
February 12, 2021: Farm Bureau - Cannabis Sub Committee Meeting 
February 12, 2021: Blue Water Group
February 12, 2021: Retired County of San Diego Planner
February 16 2021: City of Chula Vista
February 18, 2021: City of La Mesa
February 22, 2021: Campo Lake Morena Community Planning Group
February 23, 2021: Individual Stakeholder
February 24, 2021: Legal Community 
February 24, 2021: Rainbow CPG
February 25, 2021: Fallbrook CPG Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee 
February 26, 2021: American Cancer Society & American Heart Association
March 2, 2021: Sweetwater Community Planning Group
March 2, 2021: Valle De Oro Community Planning Group
March 2, 2021: Shryne Group
March 2, 2021: United Medical Marijuana Coalition
March 3, 2021: Lakeside Community Planning Group
March 4, 2021: Borrego Springs Community Planning Group
March 4, 2021: Ramona Community Planning Group
March 5, 2021: Akashic Care
March 8, 2021: Social Equity with Lynne Lyman & Robert DiVito with Element 7
March 8, 2021: UFCW Local 135
March 9, 2021: Bloom Consulting
March 10, 2021: CA State Water Water Resources Control Board Resource Control Board - South Coast Cannabis Cultivation Unit
March 12, 2021: Cal State University San Marcos (CSUSM)
March 16, 2021: Clay Company, Inc and Eaze
March 16, 2021: Farm Bureau - Cannabis Sub Committee Meeting
March 17, 2021: San Diego State University (SDSU) Global Campus
March 17, 2021: CDFA Licensing Science Unit
March 18, 2021: Casa de Oro Alliance
March 18, 2021: Nebrina Holdings
March 22, 2021: Center for Community Research Marijuana Prevention Initiative (MPI)
March 23, 2021: Meeting with Cannabis Stakeholders Group (CSG) 
March 23, 2021: Farm Bureau - Cannabis Subcommittee Meeting
March 23, 2021: San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce - Cannabis Working Group
March 24, 2021: Bloom Consulting
March 24, 2021: CaliGrown
March 29, 2021: Santa Ysabel Tribal Cannabis Regulatory Agency
March 30, 2021: City of Lemon Grove
April 1, 2021: Borrego Springs CSG
April 1, 2021: Ed Wicker Law
April 7, 2021: Bureau of Cannabis Control Equity Liaison Unit

April 8, 2021: City of La Mesa
April 9, 2021: City of San Diego
April 9, 2021: City of Encinitas
April 12, 2021: City of Imperial Beach
April 13, 2021: SweeterHR
April 16, 2021: CC Security Solutions
April 19, 2021: Department of Fish and Wildlife
April 20, 2021: Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians
April 21, 2021: Green New Deal Alliance
April 22, 2021: Warner Springs Unified School District
April 26, 2021: County of Ventura
April 27, 2021: Puzzle Group Law
May 26, 2021: Community Planning Group and Sponsor Group Chair Meeting
May 27, 2021: Hidden Meadows Community Sponsor Group
June 15, 2021: Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association (SCTCA)
June 16, 2021: Twin Oaks Community Sponsor Group
June 17, 2021: San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce – Cannabis Working Group
July 1, 2021: Ramona Community Planning Group
July 6, 2021: Representatives of the 5 Existing Dispensaries
July 7, 2021: Lakeside Community Planning Group
July 12, 2021: Valley Center Community Planning Group
July 19, 2021: Fallbrook Community Planning Group
July 23, 2021: Center for Community Research - Marijuana Prevention Initiative
July 26, 2021: National Cannabis Industry Association
July 27, 2021: Americans for Safe Access
July 27, 2021: Grossmont Union High School District
August 2, 2021: Social Advocates for Youth (SAY) San Diego
August 3, 2021: Valle De Oro Community Planning Group
August 6, 2021: San Diego County Planning Commission
August 19, 2021: South County Economic Development Council
August 25, 2021: Endangered Habitats League
September 1, 2021: Lakeside Community Planning Group
September 7, 2021: Farm Bureau
September 7, 2021: Cannabis Stakeholder Groups (CSG)
September 9, 2021: Public Webinar 1
September 9, 2021: San Dieguito Community Planning Group
September 13, 2021: Public Webinar 2
September 14, 2021: United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 135
September 15, 2021: Bluewater Government Relations 
September 24, 2021: OERJ-led with Bluewater Government Relations 
October 1, 2021: OERJ-led with Dispensary Owners 


State and Local Cannabis Regulation Timeline

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act (CUA). Under the CUA, medicinal-use cannabis was permitted for patients with medical recommendations from their physicians. 

On June 23, 2009 (Item #20), the County Board of Supervisors (Board) directed staff to amend the County Zoning Ordinance to prohibit illegal, non-medical marijuana dispensaries from operating within the unincorporated areas. 

On August 5, 2009 (Item # 6), the Board adopted an interim urgency ordinance enacting a moratorium on the establishment of medical marijuana facilities. The interim urgency ordinance was adopted to allow County staff the time needed to study how medical marijuana facilities should be permitted and determine the appropriate regulations for such uses.

On June 23 and 30, 2010 (Item # 5), the County Board of Supervisors amended the County’s Regulatory Ordinance and Zoning Ordinance to provide licensing and operational requirements relating to the establishment of medical cannabis facilities. The ordinance implemented the 1996 CUA by establishing regulation and licensing requirements that allowed patients and primary caregivers to cultivate cannabis for medical purposes while protecting public health, safety and welfare of communities within the unincorporated area.

In 2015, the State of California passed Assembly Bill 266, Assembly Bill 243, and Senate Bill 643, that collectively established a comprehensive state regulatory framework for the licensing and enforcement of cultivation, manufacturing, retail sale, transportation, storage, delivery and testing of medicinal cannabis in California. The regulatory framework known as the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA), established three branches for licensing and regulating medicinal cannabis activity: Bureau of Cannabis Control, CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing, and Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch

On February 3, 2016 (Item # 7), during public communication, speakers addressed the Board regarding their concerns about medical cannabis facilities. The Board referred the matter to staff, with a request to return with potential options available for regulating medical cannabis facilities.

On March 16, 2016 (Item # 3), the Board adopted an interim urgency ordinance enacting a moratorium on the establishment of new medical cannabis facilities for a 45-day period. The interim urgency ordinance prohibited the ability for new medical cannabis facilities to be established to the extent allowed by law. The Board also directed staff to return at a future date with various ordinance options to address the siting and enforcement of these facilities.

On April 27, 2016 (Item # 2), the Board extended the moratorium for an additional 10 months and 15 days. 

On November 4, 2016 (Item #1) the Planning Commission considered the Amendment to Medical Marijuana Collective Facility Ordinance project. Based on the Board’s direction, staff proposed different ordinance options for consideration. Commissioner Woods motioned to recommend option eight (8) to the Board of Supervisors, with noted modifications; Commissioner Brooks seconded the motion. All in favor; motion passed (6-0-1-0).

In November 2016, California voters passed Proposition 64, or the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). The AUMA legalized recreational cannabis for individuals over the age of 21. The act also permitted regulated businesses to sell cannabis beginning January 1, 2018.

January 25, 2017 (Item # 1), the Board directed staff to return with an ordinance to place a ban on all medical and non-medical marijuana facilities, collective facilities, and amend the County Zoning ordinance related to non-medical marijuana dispensaries.

On March 15, 2017 (Item # 2) and March 22, 2017 (Item # 6), the Board amended and repealed the County Zoning Ordinances related to medical and non-medical cannabis facilities within the unincorporated County. Consequently, the five existing medical cannabis facilities were ordered to close by 2022.

In June 2017, California established the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) through Senate Bill 94. As a combination of its precursors, MCRSA and AUMA, the MAUCRSA became the single regulatory system for governing medicinal and adult-use cannabis in California.

In September 2018, California signed into law the California Cannabis Equity Act of 2018 through Senate Bill 1294 and the Budget Act of 2019. Under the California Cannabis Equity Act of 2018, the Bureau of Cannabis Control granted funding to local jurisdictions with equity programs that promote social equity and support individuals who are disproportionately affected by cannabis criminalization.

On January 27, 2021 (Item #4), the Board directed staff to amend the County Zoning Ordinance to allow for a suite of uses, including retail, cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, testing, or a combination of these uses, through a microbusiness license.

The Board also directed staff to develop a new Cannabis Permitting Program which will prioritize social equity, access, and business opportunities. The Social Equity Program will allow individuals with past cannabis arrests and/or convictions, of low-income, and of communities with high arrest rates or “Disproportionately Impacted Areas” to have greater opportunities for securing a County operating permit. A comprehensive list of the Board’s direction from January 27, 2021, can be reviewed in the Minute Order.  

On March 3, 2021 (Item #11), staff returned to the Board of Supervisors (Board) with a status update from the Board direction provided on January 27, 2021. The update included staff research, analysis of other jurisdictions’ program development, stakeholder input to date, and to seek Board direction on how the Program is built. The Board directed:
  • The Office of Equity and Racial Justice to lead the development of the framework and strategy, including grant funding options, needed to launch a comprehensive Social Equity Program and coordinate this with the land use permitting system being developed by the Department of Planning & Development Services. 
  • Staff to return to the Board in 90 days with a progress report and return to the Board in 180 days with an update on stakeholder input, ordinance development, and Social Equity Program options for Board direction.
  • Staff to prepare an analysis of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR), a mitigated negative declaration, and a negative declaration that includes pros and cons of each approach, along with timelines, which will allow for additional stakeholder engagement and potentially reduce the cost and time associated with permitting for future applicants, making the permitting process more equitable, with the objective of narrowly defining the CEQA needs, and expediting the permitting process including exploring ministerial permits, conditional use permits, or neighborhood use permits.
  • The Chief Administrative Officer to work with stakeholders to modify the regulatory code to better facilitate sustainable operations by the existing permit holders and return to the Board in 90 days with options for Board direction.

On June 9, 2021 (Item #2), staff returned to the Board with a status update from the March 3, 2021, meeting and to provide the Board with information about the different options for environmental review to support development of the Program.  The Board adopted the Standard Program Environmental Impact Review timeline, a roughly two-year long process, that allows for all potential commercial cannabis uses, such as indoor and outdoor cannabis, cultivation, distribution, testing, retail, manufacturing, and microbusinesses. In addition, the Board of Supervisors (Board) directed PDS to prepare and return to the Board for further review and consideration with an ordinance under a CEQA exemption allowing existing permit holders to: sell cannabis for adult use, operate past the sunset date of April 14, 2022, sell edible and drinkable cannabis products, sell branded merchandise, expand up to 10,000 square feet, and transfer business licenses among existing permit holders. 

On August 6, 2021 (Item #1), staff presented the ordinance amendments created to enact the Board’s June 9 direction to the Planning Commission. At that meeting, the Commissioners recommended the Board adopt amendments allowing existing dispensaries to (1) continue to operate past the “sunset” date of April 14, 2022, (2) transition to commercial medical and commercial adult use cannabis sales, (3) transfer of Operating Certificates from existing Operating Certificate holders to others, (4) sell edible and drinkable cannabis products, and (5) sell of branded merchandise. The Planning Commission made its own recommendations regarding use of groundwater for cultivation and the use of a ministerial process for expansion of the existing dispensaries. You can access a full recording of the hearing and additional materials, including a staff report and other supporting documents, at this webpage.  

Additional State Cannabis Resources

In addition to the County’s future operating permits that are under development, a state license is also required to engage in commercial cannabis activity. For more information on state licensing programs, please visit the following links.

State of California Cannabis Portal
Bureau of Cannabis Control