Post W planning meeting a good first step

NEVADA CITY, Calif. June 15, 2016 – The first meeting between county officials and representatives of the various marijuana groups took place today. With the defeat of Measure W, the outdoor growing ban on all marijuana plants, the next step is to repeal the ban and replace it with a simple set of rules. How this will be accomplished and what the revised ordinance should look like was the focus of the first meeting.

Nevada County Supervisors Hank Weston and Nate Beason were joined by County Counsel Alison Barratt-Green, Assistant County Counsel Amanda Uhrhammer and Captain Jeff Pettit from the Sheriff’s Office, Patricia Smith represented ASA Nevada County, Forrest Hurd , Harry Bennett represented cannabis business owners, Mark Schaefer the No on W Committee, and Jonathan Collier and Diana Gamzon the Nevada County chapter of the California Growers Association.

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Nate Beason kicked the meeting off by stating “we’re here to honor the Supervisors’ commitment to repeal the current ordinance.” Hank Weston added, “Whatever happened before, it’s in the past. We’re here too make this thing work. I think we’ll be successful – it’ll be a tough slog, but in the end it will work.”

Barratt-Green laid out three actions that will be taken.

  • Repeal the ban and develop interim rules – it can’t just be a free for all.
  • The second task will be to develop a long term solution, integrating state and local requirements. That’ll take time and stakeholder input from the whole community.
  • Develop what this process this will look like- at a later date

The BOS will take action on repealing the ban and adopting an interim ordinance at their July 26th meting. As the current ordinance is an urgency ordinance, it will be replaced by another urgency ordinance. The difference between a regular ordinance and an urgency ordinance: An urgency ordinance only requires one public hearing and goes into effect immediately after  adoption. With the county’s internal deadlines, the new rules for outdoor cultivation have to be ready by July 14, 2016.

Collier suggested going back to the January 11th version of the ordinance, before the ban was implemented. Barratt-Green said that version had its own issues – square footage vs plant count, setbacks from schools, terracing requirements (All plants needed to be on a level plane) etc.

Beason said they wanted to “move as fast as we can, get the necessary votes [4/5 required] and the buy-in of the growers and patients.” Managing expectations is part of the process, the BOS will only address the outdoor growing portion of the current ordinance, Barratt-Green clarified.

Schaefer said law enforcement actions were a big focus, “We need to know what we can tell growers what they can and cannot do. We need a process where the neighbors are happy.” Enforcement priorities are focused on the big guys, Weston said. This prompted a discussion on the definition of “bad actors.” Schaefer said, “Somebody going in the forest, chopping down trees and using rat poison, that is a bad actor, even if they’re just growing 20 plants. Someone growing 50 plants and has no issues with neighbors is not a bad actor. We would love to see clean, respectable, commercial small craft farms.” To which Beason retorted: “You want licensed cultivators?” “Yes, we have to license farmers,” was the unanimous response.  Collier added, “It’s not the small 3-plant grows among the artichokes that are the problem, it’s large grows – we need sensible rules. Large growers won’t go away, we need to regulate them. We don’t expect to solve this with the temporary ordinance. How can we bring commercial growers into compliance? We want to encourage compliance .” Weston agreed, “As we move forward, that’ll become clear. It’ll be like a building permit to get a license. I think the interim ordinance will set the stage for the permanent ordinance. I wasn’t entrapping anyone when I talked about a few plants in a vegetable garden, I know the Sheriff is committed to going after the big guys. ”

Forrest Hurd emphasized that when it comes to medical cannabis “it’s not growers versus county. There are a lot of people who want to 100% follow the law, because they have children. Nobody wants to put children at risk or have CPS show up. We want a long term solution.”

Beason and Weston both noted that they will talk to people that are not growers, “there’s a larger universe than what’s here,” Beason said. Weston continued: “I think the cannabis community didn’t do a very good job explaining themselves years back.”

All were in agreement when Beason said: “We asked the voters if they wanted an outdoor ban and they said no. We [the county] need help dealing with the bad actors.” Patricia Smith explained that ASA has formed a team to do cleanup after fly-by-night growers leave a mess. They are also working on more outreach and education on the environmental impacts. Diana Gamzon said the priority for Cal Growers is to educate growers through weekly meetings, media and any other means. Schaefer said his group is working on a state of the art stakeholder process and asked for buy in from everyone present.

The conversation turned to zoning and Forrest Hurd suggested relocating cultivation to AG zoned parcels to get it out of the residential areas. “We need to address the concerns of people who are surrounded by grows.” Collier felt OK to pull it out of R1, R2, R3 zoning, “we feel comfortable to put in the AG or Forest Residential zones”.  To a question by Weston about indoor grows in residential areas, Patricia Smith responded “I have a real problem with that, I don’t want people turning whole houses into grows.” Beason dug a little deeper, saying “but we have people that need to grow their medicine and they live in town.” Smith agreed, but said “They should join a collective, or have a greenhouse.” The consensus appeared to be that collective grows are not appropriate in residential areas and removing them from R1-3 zoning is a good idea. Hurd added “Restricting cultivation to the patient or caregiver could accidentally remove legal access, let’s take a look at that.”

Registration was definitely an option for all stakeholders present, with Bennett saying: “I’ll be first in line!” If the registration of scripts could be done through Public Health, HIPPA would protect the privacy of the patients and allow cross checks, Weston said. Schaefer was unequivocal: “If they want to be part of the new program, they need to come out of the closet.” Collier agreed, “a registry is appropriate.”

The stakeholders also proposed a minimum 2-year residency requirement in Nevada County before anyone could apply for a license, curtailing the “Grow, Snip and Run” fears. This is for Nevada County – not for outside actors, they said.

Summing up the meeting, Beason said: “We will develop an urgency ordinance, take out the outdoor ban and replace with a simple straight-forward ordinance. We will have it before the BOS on July 26.”  The stakeholders suggest to consider zoning as a criteria. Responsible growers and law enforcement should both be pushing into the same direction to work towards compliance.

The tone of the meeting was cordial, professional and mutual respect was clearly evident. The group will meet again on June 27th to discuss a options for a draft interim ordinance.