Pot ordinance stirs passions

November 15, 2007

Mike A\'Dair, Willits News (CA)

Supervisors will consider a new, more restrictive medical marijuana ordinance at their December 5 meeting. The measure was returned to County Counsel Jeanine Nadel for review following the board's November 6 meeting after Supervisor John Pinches, father of the main concept behind the ordinance, said he would not support it, and Nadel said she needed to take a second look before the proposed ordinance came to a vote.

The ordinance is the work of the board's Criminal Justice Committee, supervisors Jim Wattenburger and Michael Delbar. The two have been meeting monthly since January.

In August, supervisors rejected proposals by Delbar to impose a six-plant limit and by Wattenburger's to impose an 18-plant limit, making 25 plants the upper limit in deference to Measure G, approved by county voters in 2000. But that limitation was for each card held by a qualified caregiver; no limitation was imposed on how many patients a medical marijuana provider could grow for.

At the board's August 7 meeting, Pinches proposed allowing growers to cultivate more than 25 plants if they secured a county use permit. Pinches' proposal contained no upper limit to the number of plants a grower could cultivate.

That part of his idea was not  included in the new proposed ordinance.

The ordinance under consideration at the December 5 meeting has five major provisions: 1.) "the cultivation of more than 25 marijuana plants on any legal parcel, either inside or outside, within the unincorporated area of the county, is a public nuisance."

2.) "All plants must have zip-ties on them or they will be deemed illegal plants and confiscated or destroyed."

3.) "Wherever medical marijuana is grown, a current and valid, original, state-issued medical marijuana card must be displayed in such a manner as to allow law enforcement officers to easily see the card without having to enter any building of any type."

4.) "People who are cultivating medical marijuana who are not the legal owner of the parcel where the marijuana is being grown "must give written notice to the legal owner of the parcel prior to commencement of cultivation" and also "shall obtain written consent from said owner to cultivate marijuana on the parcel" and

5.) The cultivation of marijuana, in any amount or quantity, willl not be allowed within 500 feet of a youth-oriented facility, a school, park, school bus stop or church.

At the November meeting, Pinches argued that putting in the first part of his idea without the second part was unfair.

"If you just leave it at 25 plants per parcel, without that other part I recommended, then that means that only the person who owns the piece of land can grow medical marijuana," he said later. "That's discriminatory.

"Now the other way with that second provision in there that would mean that if somebody owned some land, and say he had three friends who were caregivers but who weren't lucky enough to own any land those three friends could grow on the first guy's land...with his permission. And they would have to get a minor use permit from the county to show how they were going to take care of various problems that occur with growing marijuana."

Deputy County Counsel Doug Losak, however, said the county's legal team had advised supervisors against including that section in the proposed ordinance.

"In our view that provision violates the Fifth Amendment (to the Constitution) which prohibits self-incrimination," he said.

Seven Robinson Creek-area residents appeared before the board of supervisors on Tuesday to complain that conditions surrounding widespread marijuana cultivation were getting out of control.

"I came up here from the big city, came up to country to live my dream, I had my baby, and then I thought, 'Oh my God, I can no longer go outside because of the gun fire,'" said grape-grower Andrea Silverstein.

"People are getting fed up with the situation," said Matt Davis, another Robinson Creek-area resident. "A lot of animals are getting gut-shot and being left out to die. I'm worried about all the water use. I worry about the animals not having enough water."

Silverstein, Davis and the other five Robinson Creek-area residents said they favored the proposed ordinance, while Colleen Schenk of the Anderson Valley Action Committee requested the distance limitations be increased to 1,000 feet to agree with those encoded in the school drug-free zone policy.

Willits resident Laura McBride, who suffers seasonally from debilitating sinus problems due to marijuana cultivation near her home, offered her advice to those who were listening. "My advice is [to]sue your neighbors," McBride said. "We have rights, too. We have a right to fresh air."

Former Willits City Councilman Ron Orenstein told supervisors, "I think it's pretty damned embarrassing to be living in this county now. We're saying, you don't have to have any kind of ambition, you don't have to leave any kind of legacy all you have to do is grow pot and make money."

Ukiah attorney Keith Faulder, who said he was representing the Mendocino Medical Marijuana Advisory Board, attacked the proposed ordinance on a number of legal points, arguing the findings were "not supported by objective, empirical data," that the ordinance itself is "unconstitutionally unreasonable because it attempts to set arbitrary limits on the number of plants a person can own" and violates the state constitution because it "attempts to amend two initiative statues without the approval of the electors."

And pro-pot New Settler magazine publisher Beth Bosk demanded the board study what the impact of approving the ordinance would be on the county's economy.



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