Mia Gleason: Grower’s Representatives Show Patience, Cooperation

NEVADA CITY, Calif. July 26, 2016 – The negotiators for the cannabis farmers have demonstrated an incredible amount of patience and cooperation. I’m sure that anyone who understood the details of the proposed ordinance, and the process of how it came to be, would come to the same conclusion, regardless of their bias on the issue. If you look at plant count alone, sure it sounds reasonable. The board is offering 25 plants, and it’s heard that the growers want 50. But under the proposed ordinance it doesn’t matter if the board offered 100 plants. There are several reasons why this is the case.

The first is the square footage restrictions. The growers asked for a plant count “or” square footage. The board offered plant count “restricted” by square footage. The two are polar opposites. On the largest parcels over 20 acres the restriction is to 1000 sq. ft. By the County’s own calculations in creating previous ordinances, this would accommodate about 10 full season plants. So the offer of 25 plants is superfluous. This was made very clear when discussing the ordinance. In good faith for negotiations, the growing community conceded anything larger than 10,000 sq. ft. They even said that they’d be happy with a maximum of 5,000 sq. ft. In one offer it was said that in the spirit of patience and understanding they think they could have settled for 2500 sq. ft. 1000 sq. ft. on only the largest parcels does not represent a compromise by the board.

The second issue is the number of parcels where growing is prohibited. Of course growing in residential areas is prohibited. But it is also prohibited in any parcels under 5 acres in residential AG. This is why some say that Measure W was less restrictive because it allowed indoor cultivation in all residential and res/Ag properties. Res/AG properties between 5 and 10 acres and full AG properties from 2 to 5 acres are prohibited from growing outdoors under the new proposal. On full AG parcels from 5 to 10 acres the maximum allowed is 600 sq. ft. Please understand that with path ways, fence clearance and working areas, any square footage is reduced considerably in it’s actual growing area, making 600 sq. ft. a small footprint.

The third issue is the setbacks that start at 150 feet from the property lines and go up to 300 ft. When negotiating with the board they were aware that changing setbacks from the neighbors “living area” to “property lines” would exclude a significant number of properties from any growing at all. Considering terrain and boundary lines many larger parcels would also be excluded for any growing. Their original offer had setbacks to living areas. In the final proposal they took that away and made it to property boundaries. This change represents a huge decrease in the number of properties that would be allowed to grow on.

In restricting so many parcels from growing and restricting the square footage so much, the board has created many problems. Besides trying to shut down about 3500 local farms and gardens, they have made it impossible for those people to even consider growing collectively on larger parcels.

The next issue is the fine structure. With the current proposal 85% to 90% of the farms in the county will be out of compliance. This is a prohibition structure. The whole promise of solving the problems related to marijuana cultivation is to end the prohibition and bring everyone into compliance with taxation and regulation. Growers said yes to fines if they could get an ordinance that helps at least 80% of the people come into compliance. The BOS came in with the opposite, hefty fines with most people not able to come into compliance.

The team also takes issue with the process of how this came about. The board appeared to be working with the growing community, but they didn’t take any of their recommendations. Moving to 25 plants with the square footage restrictions and taking away setbacks is actually a decrease and a political spin. So, saying that the board made any increases is not accurate. In fact they made one modest increase and two large decreases (this is all well documented in the back and forth in the meetings, and available for review). The negotiators working with the board members came in good faith. They stopped the momentum of the outrage of the general community for how measure W came about, and insisted on trying to work together. These negotiators took a lot of flack from many growers for offering too many concessions. This was a grand gesture and a show of incredible understanding and patience by the folks who met with the committee. When the proposal came back that offered so little in terms of concessions and so much in terms of restriction, how could anyone expect this group of people to contain the resentment of the growing community? The current proposal is prohibitively more restrictive than the ordinance that county had in place prior to the ban. In some ways it is more restrictive than the ban.

The people who are giving their time and energy to help bring about solutions to our County’s cannabis issues are very moderate and intelligent folk. Time and again they have applauded the sheriff for taking down the large and irresponsible grows. They aren’t looking for our community to be known as the wild west of grow counties. They want responsible farmers to be able to become fully legal and compliant with all safety and public concerns. In creating measure W, the county officials caused a lot of mistrust, and a feeling of a lack of representation of a large majority of the public. This ordinance is a continuation of that mistrust and polarization.

Either way, it is not going to serve our community to divide it by cutting off and not understanding such a large social, political and economic force in our county, not by the elected officials, and not by the media. Marginalizing the hard working people who are trying to represent solutions is a bad way to go. It would help our community greatly if people who influence public opinion became fully informed about the scope of this issue in our community. It would take some investigation; not taking the words of either side, but in the end it could produce a much better climate for solving our shared issues. The process that led up to measure W was very one sided and divisive. The current proposal also represents a one sided approach, with only the look of an inclusive process. The further we set down a road of one sidedness, the longer it will take to recover from the backlash.