Nevada Co. medical marijuana backers seek ordinance change

Matthew Renda, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Paperwork has been filed to force Nevada County to hold a special election that will ask voters to decide the substance of its medical marijuana ordinance enacted last year.

Patricia Smith, president of the Nevada County chapter of Americans for Safe Access, has repeatedly asserted that last May’s county-approved cultivation ordinance is a de facto ban on collective cultivation of the medicinal plant and presents other problems for patients who need the medicine to allay various ailments.

“There is a sweet spot that properly balances patients’ well-being and potential nuisances to neighbors,” Smith said Friday at the Eric Rood Administrative Center in Nevada City, where she was filing paperwork with the Nevada County Elections Office. “The present ordinance prioritizes the right of property owners at the expense of patients. Our ordinance protects everybody.”

The county’s ordinance regulates legal cannabis growth from a nuisance standpoint within unincorporated areas in the county. The ordinance limits growth based on parcel size, property zoning and setbacks, and imposes other restrictions such as fencing and lighting regulations.

Smith and her cohorts have formulated an updated ordinance and will put it in front of voters if they are able to garner the 9,923 signatures required to move the process toward a special election.

Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal said the ordinance as currently constructed is more effective in protecting his constituents’ quality of life.

“My greatest concern is that (Smith’s) ordinance provides for greater latitude in the location and volume of plants,” Royal said.

Royal said the proposed ordinance would “dramatically reduce his department’s ability to respond to complaints,” which have begun to pick up and will steadily increase in volume when the peak grow season arrives in late August and continues through September.

Residents most often complain about the smell of the plants and also the traffic and trash generated by grow operations, Royal said.

Smith said the current ordinance actually unduly punishes small collectives and contains unreasonable fencing requirements.

She added that grows should be restricted by the number of plants instead of according to square footage.

Royal said some plants can grow to be as large as 12 feet in diameter, so regulating according to number would not be an effective means of limiting the amount of marijuana at a given land plot.

Smith has already filed a Notice of Intention to Circulate Petition, the first step in the process. She has publicized the notice in local media and was on her way to provide the elections office with proof of publication Friday.

Once the document is verified, Smith can begin to collect signatures, needing to gather 20 percent of the votes cast for California governor in the last gubernatorial election.

Smith must present the signatures 180 days from the date when the ballot title and summary were first received, which is Dec. 30, 2013.

In Nevada County, the county, Grass Valley and Nevada City have outright bans, while the town of Truckee does not allow dispensaries in its zoning language.

“The way our zoning operates is that if it is not specially allowed, it is prohibited,” Truckee Town Manager Tony Lashbrook said previously, adding that there has been little town demand to open such a storefront.