Working Group Seeks Compromise on Marijuana Ordinance
Medical marijuana advocates and proponents of a proposal to regulate marijuana cultivation sat down recently to try to hammer out some compromises that – ideally – will be incorporated in a draft ordinance that could be presented to the Nevada County Board of Supervisors as early as March.
While there were some contentious moments at the group’s first meeting in early January, many stayed behind after the two-hour session to talk. And that open dialogue left many participants feeling “heartened,” in the words of GrassRootsSolutions founder Patricia Smith.
But Smith – and other participants – stressed that the ball remains in the county’s court and they are taking a wait-and-see approach.
“Nothing at all was decided upon, not even a comma,” Smith said. “I can’t really comment until I see what they come back with.”
The proposed ordinance drew a standing-room-only audience when the concept was introduced at the Board of Supervisors in November. The sample ordinance was brought to the board by Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal, who emphasized the wording – which could limit the number of plants depending on zoning, as well as grows within 1,000 feet of areas where children gather – was only a template.
Royal was given the OK to move forward with a draft, and put together the “working group” of representatives from both sides of the issue, as well as county counsel Alison Barratt-Green and District Attorney Cliff Newell.
Medical marijuana advocates, including Plan It Solar owner Martin Webb, brought a revised ordinance to the table, and hope their suggestions will be heeded.
“I’m hopeful,” Webb said, adding that he pushed to get some activists to be open to working with law enforcement.
“There was a sense this was being steered by prohibitionists” and just a “charade,” Webb acknowledged. “It was reassuring to have people willing to listen, being open to changing the ordinance to be more realistic and more sustainable.”
In particular, wording in the ordinance that references federal law is of deep concern to medical marijuana advocates, they said.
“If the federal language stays in, all this work ( to compromise ) is for nothing,” Smith said. “They could use that to outlaw cultivation entirely.”
Other items in the sample ordinance that drew a lot of discussion included setbacks, restrictions on mature or immature plants, and registration with the county.
“My biggest concern right now are the setbacks,” Smith said. “I tried to present diagrams showing how very little … would qualify. It’s unacceptable for medical marijuana patients, especially low-income ones.”
Dr. Stephen Banister, of Highland Springs Wellness, decried the need to have an ordinance at all.
“It feels like overkill to do it this way,” he said. “I feel like there’s a real strong movement to severely restrict medical marijuana, but ( an ordinance ) seems too severe a solution. … I am acknowledging the problems. This is just taking it too far, too fast.”
“I think it would good to put the problem in perspective,” Banister said. “How many legal grows are creating a problem? I think it’s a fairly small percentage.”
Instead of an ordinance, Banister would like to see the county try a proactive, voluntary compliance approach.
While medical marijuana advocates said they are committed to participating in the process, they are working on a parallel track – just in case.
“There’s no formal coalition as of yet,” Smith said. “We are planning to have a town hall meeting … At that time, we will announce the formation of a chapter of Americans for Safe Access.”
The fluid group has been continuing to work on a revised ordinance that will address homeowners complaints and still give people reasonable access, Smith said.
The concerns – and the hopes – of the medical marijuana advocates were echoed by ordinance proponents as well.
“We have no way to gauge what county counsel and sheriff are going to do,” said Don Bessee of Nevada County Against Residential Cannabis Cultivation. “All we can do is advocate for our position.”
Bessee said his group is not advocating for a ban, saying, “We’re looking at getting a handle on it in residential areas … There is a place for that. This can be structured so legitimate users have access, and the neighborhoods aren’t getting chewed up by 99-plant grows.”
The hope is that the county will “take some of this to heart and get something that won’t create a repeal,” Bessee said.
The working group is valuable because it is forcing the sides to have a dialogue and understand each other’s positions, he added – “so extremists aren’t driving the argument.”
Lee French from the Alta Sierra Property Owners Association was not as hopeful, saying he didn’t think the final ordinance would change much from the sample presented at the November meeting.
“I don’t think anyone will be satisfied with what comes out,” he said. “I understand ( Royal ) is in a tight spot, and needs to get something out, guidelines of some kind. But it’s not going to please everybody.”
French said he would like to see marijuana completely prohibited from residential areas.
“What I’d like to see is no-tolerance, but that’s not necessarily what my board wants to see,” he said. “I’ve asked for input and I’m in the process of getting that now.”
The working group will meet at least one more time, Royal said.
The sheriff will then sit down with county counsel, the district attorney and possibly the county development agency to hammer out a draft that will be presented to the Board of Supervisors.
“We’re still a ways away,” Royal said. “I would like to have it in place before next growing season. We’ll see what challenges we come against.
“We want something that’s palatable to both sides of this issue,” he said. “What do we feel is reasonable that we can enforce, that we can live with and that is balanced in meeting patients’ needs and those in the community who are victims of a nuisance issue. I think the dialogue has been positive – everybody’s trying to find common ground.”