Marijuana committee lays out scope of work

February 28, 2007

Mike A\'Dair, Willits News

There were few fireworks at the first meeting of the board of supervisors' Criminal Justice Committee.

The committee, chaired by Supervisor Jim Wattenburger and which includes Supervisor Michael Delbar, is preparing to tackle the difficult question of setting policy for medical marijuana production in the Mendocino County.

The issue is complicated because the controlling piece of state legislation, Senate Bill 420 (passed by the Senate on September 11, 2003) contains many loopholes and contradiction. Several North Coast cities and counties have regulations which are different from in SB420, and different from each other.

Wattenburger said the committee would be trying to "do is to solve those loopholes and to define, in better way, what is legal and illegal use.

"[Prop 215 and Senate Bill 430] are the letter of the law, and legitimate folks need to act legitimately. That is the direction that this committee will be moving."

Sheriff Tom Allman said he would work the committee, but cautioned supervisors not to act too drastically. "If we were to bring it down to the state limit of six plants, my deputies would be doing nothing all through the summer except for enforcing that policy, and that would be to the detriment of the public safety of everything else we do," Allman said.

He compared supervisors' possible crackdown on unregulated or out of compliance marijuana production to a regulatory action that could hypothetically be undertaken by the California Highway Patrol. "It would be like on Highway 101, as we are speaking now, there are people who are driving at 85 miles per hour. But the highway patrol isn't going to shut down 101 because some drivers are driving over the limit.

"When I started my career in law enforcement over 25 years ago, it never occurred to me that I would be dealing with marijuana as the number one issue in the county. But that is where we are today," Allman said.

Donna Frank, a Sonoma County medical marijuana dispensary manager, told supervisors she wanted to open a dispensary in Mendocino County, but urged medical marijuana growing be restricted to industrial zones in urban areas or to county unincorporated areas. "People shouldn't be growing it in their back yards," she said.

"I am deeply concerned about where this county is going," said Jeannie King, who recalled a recent incident at a Willits cafe in which another customer began smoking a joint near where she was sitting. "I would move to Nebraska if I could. I'd like to go somewhere where the laws are black and white."

Willits City Manager Ross Walker and City Attorney Jim Lance also addressed the council. Walker said that marijuana production has without doubt increased in Willits since the passage of Prop 215 and SB420, adding the City of Willits--which, in October 2005 banned outdoor growing of pot but allowed pot to be grown inside stand-alone or attached greenhouses--is now moving toward restricting marijuana growing to indoors only.

"We've had the experience over the past year, where trying to enclose in greenhouses, which we have tried to do, to allow for growing, is not really working," he said. "Why? Greenhouse structures, by their definition, need time to air out. It doesn't take much for the smell to get out. And it is complicated by the further issue of, how many people can you grow for?"

Walker related a story told by former Willits City Councilman Denny McEntire, who was talking with a medical marijuana grower from the Laytonville area. The growre told him how he defined the word "medicinal." "I know medical marijuana is medicinal, because every time I sell a pound, I know how good I feel," was how Walker delivered the punch line.

Wattenburger said the committee would attempt to grapple with setting a limit to the number of plants a medical marijuana grower could legally grow at the committee's next meeting. Committee recommendations do not become law before being brought before the board of supervisors for consideration and possible adoption.

The Criminal Justice committee next meets on March 12.



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