Board sets limits to medical marijuana industry

December 13, 2007

Mike A\'Dair, Willits News (CA)

On a 3-2 vote, supervisors Tuesday approved an ordinance limiting the number of medical marijuana plants that can be grown in unincorporated areas of Mendocino County to 25 plants per assessor's parcel.

Supervisors Jim Wattenburger, Kendall Smith and David Colfax voted for the measure; while supervisors John Pinches and Michael Delbar opposed it.

Pinches voted against it because he thought the measure too restrictive; Delbar voted against it because he thought it was not restrictive enough.

Before the vote, Ross Liberty, who lives on Highway 253 southwest of Ukiah, warned supervisors the decision they were about to make would be historical.

"What this board is faced with is, is what does this county want itself to be? You are at a crossroads. This place is horrendous to do business. You can't find a vendor. You can't find employees. You can't have it both ways. We're either going to be a county of drug-dealers or we're gonna be a county of working folk. You guys get to decide that today."

The ordinance is the product of nearly a year of work on the part of the board of supervisors' Criminal Justice Committee, chaired by Wattenburger and rounded out by Delbar.

The heart of the ordinance states: "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 pubic nuisance. This limitation shall be imposed regardless of the number of qualified patients residing at such location. Further, this limitation shall be imposed notwithstanding any assertion that the person(s) cultivating marijuana are the caregiver(s) for qualified patients."

New version weaker than October draft

In other sections, the ordinance backs off on previous attempts to close loopholes against the medical marijuana industry, which many county residents have claimed is "out of control."

Draft versions ordinance had stated "Wherever medical marijuana is grown, a current and valid, original, state-issued marijuana card or physician recommendation 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."

The version of the ordinance as passed required only that a copy of card or the physician's recommendation may be posted.

The final ordinance also softened language requiring marijuana grown for medicinal purposes have "zip ties" issued by the Mendocino County's Sheriff's Office.

The final version of the ordinance also softened posting language, requiring anyone not the legal owner of a parcel and is cultivating marijuana on the land to give written notice to the legal owner before commencing cultivation and post notice at the site that the landowner has been informed.

Allman likes it; Pinches, Delbar don't

The changes were made by County Counsel Jeanine Nadel, who told the board she didn't feel she had legal basis to require more. The changes were apparently sufficient to cause Supervisor Michael Delbar to vote against the ordinance.

Before the vote, Delbar asked Nadel to put the old wording back on at least some of the points.

Delbar also asked Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman whether he felt jettisoning the requirement that original medical marijuana cards be posted would enable dishonest growers to trick law enforcement.

"In answer to your question, 'How are we not going to get snookered?' well, we're cops, and they're robbers--and, well, we're gonna get snookered," Allman conceded.

But when asked by board Chairwoman Kendall Smith what he thought the effect would be if the ordinance was approved, Allman said, "If this passes, we are going to see caregivers saying, 'We've got to be reasonable with our neighbors.'" Later he added, "If this ordinance passes, we will see much more compliance with medical marijuana laws." Supervisor John Pinches submitted a counterproposal before the Criminal Justice Committee's draft had gone to a final vote.

Pinches' two-tiered proposal would have removed all numerical limitations on the cultivation of medical marijuana. The lowest level stipulated that "not more than two 25 mature plant medical marijuana gardens, separated by a barrier" would be allowed per legal parcel (without a use permit.)

Pinches said he wanted to double the allowed plant count to accommodate instances in which a parcel was jointly owned, perhaps by a husband and wife, or by two people in a domestic partnership. Then both co-owners could legally grow medical marijuana.

The second tier stated people who are growing " 51 or more mature medical marijuana plants must obtain a conditional use permit to address issues such as needed security, air quality, traffic and impacts on water, wildlife, water, etc."

The other supervisors showed little interest in Pinches' offering. At one point Smith said the county did not have sufficient staff to deal with all the use permits that would be requested of the Planning and Building Department, nor did it have sufficient staff in the Tax Collector's office to deal with applications for zip ties.

Pinches said he could not support the CJC version of the ordinance. Noting a consultant who had been hired by the county earlier this year had estimated that the marijuana industry represented two-thirds of the county's economy, Pinches said, "There's parts of the economy that I want to protect. People up in my district, with the demise of the timber industry the way it is now, I don't want to take away their last sliver of hope."

The board decided to postpone discussion on a proposed marijuana dispensary ordinance until early next year.



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