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Board of Supes 1/28: Marijuana Growing Ordinance; No More Outdoor Pot Gardens

Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to adopt a new ordinance governing the growing of marijuana in the unincorporated parts of the county. The motion was made by Supervisor Leonard Moty and seconded by Supervisor Pam Giacomini.

It was taken after a lengthy meeting that included many passionate public comments and was generally respectful and civil. The new ordinance prohibits all outdoor marijuana grows, and allows up to 12 plants to be grown indoors.

Those indoor grows must occur in a detached structure on land with a legal residence that includes a permitted water source. Unauthorized animal and plant poisons are prohibited and all clearing and grading must be approved and must include erosion and sediment controls. The ordinance will take effect in 30 days.

The ordinance was adopted at the conclusion of a lengthy public input and discussion. Supervisors in September, 2013, directed staff to study changes to the County’s Zoning Plan, intended to further regulate cultivation of medical marijuana and to present those changes to the Planning Commission. The Commission held two public meetings, in November and December, to consider the staff recommendation (banning outdoor cultivation) and then to consider a revised proposal (allowing outdoor cultivation on parcels or 10 acres or more. The Planning Commission adopted this revised proposal, including requirements that a legal water source be available to all grows, regulating illegal discharges of water from the premises, and establishing that violations of the ordinance are a misdemeanor (rather than an infraction). The Board adopted the ban of outdoor grows consistent with the original staff recommendation, and adopted the additional Planning Council recommendations relating to water use and establishing violations as misdemeanors.

Those opposing these stricter regulations had a variety of concerns. Most talked of legitimate medical uses, often with personal stories of pain management, and treatment of epilepsy or immune system disorders. Many expressed concern for those using marijuana who don’t have the means or space to establish an outdoor building for growing. Others objected to criminalizing people who grow a legal medication outside the county’s regulations. Many noted that the county has been unable to enforce the current ordinance; what sense does it make to strengthen that ordinance? Opponents found the number of complaints under the current law too limited to justify a new ordinance.

Supporters expressed dismay at the damage to rural neighborhoods, especially by large grows. Damage to the water table, creeks and streams and to rural roads were cited. Some feel terrorized by guns and dogs used to protect neighboring grows. Several commented on the smells that accompany outdoor grows. Sheriff Tom Bosenko spoke in favor of tighter regulations, believing that the absolute ban on outdoor grows will be easier to enforce than an acreage or plant number line. Game Warden DeWayne Little of the California Department of Fish and Game spoke of the harm to the environment caused by large grows. Public Health Officer Andrew Deckert spoke of public health challenges of marijuana, arguing that the industrialization of growing has led to more use and to a normalization of use for young people.

The Board acted to adopt the more restrictive ban on outdoor grows and to drop any distinctions based on the size of the land parcel with some discussion after the public comment pro and con. Supervisor Moty clarified that the Board was not acting on the issue of medical marijuana, but rather acting on a zoning issue. Supervisor David Kehoe asked that the sheriff prioritize limited resources on the most egregious violators of the law. Both Sheriff Bosenko and Resource Management Director Rick Simon (charged with enforcing zoning ordinances) indicated that limited staff resources are the barrier to greater enforcement. Both hope that the clarity of an outdoor ban will streamline enforcement.

The Board conducted other business at this meeting, and cancelled the meeting scheduled for February 4. A column later this week will summarize other business.

Catherine Camp is currently retired. During her career, she worked as a policy and budget analyst for the California Assembly and California Senate, in health and human services fields. She worked as a policy analyst and advocate for California’s public mental health system. Early in her career, she worked in the Community Action and Head Start programs in Shasta County.