Now that medical marijuana proponents have gathered enough signatures for an initiative on local ballots that would amend the county’s cultivation ordinance, the matter will go before the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
That afternoon, supervisors will have to choose between adopting the measure without an election, ordering a staff report to analyze the measure’s impacts, or putting the measure on an upcoming election.
If passed, ASA’s cultivation measure would significantly increase the allowable size of marijuana gardens in Nevada County.
Indoor growers are currently limited to a total of 100 square feet of canopy space regardless of the size of the parcel they’re growing on -- but if the Medical Marijuana Cultivation Measure passes, that could double, even on smaller parcels. Indoor growers on larger parcels of 30 acres or more could see their maximum allowable canopy space increased to 600 square feet.
For outdoor growers, garden size would be determined by plant count rather than the square footage of the canopy. Outdoor growers on residentially zoned parcels larger than two acres could have up to 12 plants in a greenhouse, or six without.
Growers on land zoned for agriculture or timber production could have 18 to 60 mature plants.
For some, this would be a way to help patients by increasing the local production of cannabis-derived medications that are reportedly in short supply. Others say that increasing the amount of marijuana grown will lead to more nuisance complaints.
“We don’t want to become a Mendocino or a Humboldt County,” said Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal.
“It’s about nuisance, and the ability to control quality of life in the neighborhoods where you live,” he said. “It’s not about whether marijuana’s legal or not. It’s like someone setting up a hog farm right next door, or a machine shop that runs late into the middle of the night.”
Royal has also suggested that increased production could lead to increased property crimes.
“The would-be criminals know who’s got the most marijuana,” Royal said. “They know who’s the easiest target.”
For patients in need, however, that’s not their biggest concern.
Kara Fox is the mother of a 6-year-old child with a rare form of epilepsy.
Her son, Julian, was having 20 to 30 seizures a day — but after two years of medical marijuana therapy, he’s down to two or three per day, she said.
They rely on Nevada County growers for hard-to-find marijuana strains that are low in psychoactive THC, but rich in therapeutic cannabidiol or CBD. That allows Julian to take advantage of marijuana’s medicinal benefits without getting high.
CBD rich strains aren’t as popular, however, so they’re difficult to obtain. To make matters worse, CBD rich strains tend to produce less marijuana than those that are rich in THC.
Fox needs that medicine to keep her son’s seizures at bay — but this time of year, it’s in short supply, she said.
“These particular strains don’t yield as much as the high THC ones, so right around summertime, parents are scrambling,” Fox said. “The harvest comes up in November, but now my son is starting to run out.
“I get nervous — because where am I going to get the next batch?” she asked. “It’s a problem.”
Wade Laughter, a medical marijuana grower in unincorporated Nevada County, specializes in growing the CBD-rich strains of marijuana that Fox’s son uses .
Laughter has a small marijuana garden that conforms to local regulations — but under those rules he can’t grow enough to keep up with demand.
“I can’t give them enough, and I don’t know where to tell them to get more,” Laughter said, on the verge of tears in a recent interview with The Union.
If ASA’s ballot measure passes, he’ll be able to grow more medical marijuana, he said. Laughter also says it would be of higher quality — imperative for patients with immune deficiencies.
Using the square footage of canopy space to restrict garden size can lead to crowded growing conditions.
Some growers attempt to maximize yield by packing in as many plants as they can fit – and that creates a perfect environment for mold and other pests.
“If you get (the plants) all crowded together… disease breaks out,” Laughter said.
“The plants need the space. Just like with people or rats or dogs. Take a hundred dogs and put them in a 200-square-foot area and what’s going to happen?”
For medical marijuana patients with compromised immune systems, ingesting moldy marijuana could present a significant health hazard.
“It could kill them,” Laughter said.
For him, this is personal. He and his wife are both medical marijuana patients. He’s a true believer in the cause — and from his perspective, the real crime is that there are laws against marijuana.
Laughter was one of the volunteers who worked to get ASA’s Medical Marijuana Cultivation Measure qualified for the ballot.
He started out by asking friends and neighbors to sign the petition, but stopped short of approaching strangers.
In total, more than 20 people volunteered to gather signatures for the petition to put the ordinance on an upcoming ballot. Together, they gathered more than 10,000 signatures.
What happens next is up to the Board of Supervisors.
There are three possibilities.
Smith thinks the most likely outcome is that they’ll ask county staff to come back with an informational report on the measure’s impacts.
They could also accept the measure without voter approval or put it on an upcoming ballot.
A special election would cost more for Nevada County taxpayers, according to the Registrar of Voters.
Whereas the cost of putting ASA’s initiative on the ballot for the general election in November would only amount to $72,000, it would cost $300,000 for a stand-alone special election.
Money aside, however, medical marijuana growers say that an early special election would have made it possible to finalize this year’s regulations prior to the start of the growing season.
“I’m a taxpayer too, and obviously we don’t want to waste taxpayer dollars,” said ASA’s Smith.
“However, their numbers keep moving,” she said. “When I first asked how much a special election would cost they told me $150,000.
“And it could be money well spent,” she added.
To contact staff writer Dave Brooksher, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4230.
“The harvest comes up in November, but now my son is starting to run out. I get nervous — because where am I going to get the next batch? It’s a problem.”