Nevada County supervisors pick cannabis panel members, add 2 people at last moment | TheUnion.com

Nevada County supervisors pick cannabis panel members, add 2 people at last moment

Forrest Hurd, in the blue shirt, is one of 16 people selected to serve on the community advisory group that will write recommendations for the county's permanent cannabis grow ordinance.

Nevada County supervisors on Tuesday added two people to its marijuana ordinance advisory group, setting its total membership at 16 amid personal attacks against one new panelist.

Supervisors unanimously approved the 14 people their consultant suggested serve on the community advisory group — a panel that will craft recommendations for the county's permanent cannabis cultivation ordinance. However, they opted to add two more — Don Bessee, executive director of the Northern California chapter of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, and Rich Johansen, part owner of Johansen Ranch — after public comment at the Tuesday meeting.

The advisory panel is scheduled to meet for the first time on May 23.

Some speakers, as well as supervisors, expressed concern that the advisory group had three people connected to cannabis or its industry and seemingly no one opposed.

"Who always speaks on the other side?" Supervisor Ed Scofield asked. "You may not like him, but it's Don Bessee."

Bob Hren, chairman of the Nevada County Republican Party, chided the panel as lacking in political diversity. He claimed nine people are Democrats and none are Republican.

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Hren also argued that Bessee received the unanimous recommendation of local Republicans to serve on the advisory panel, and that his inclusion would help offset what he called an imbalance in age, homeownership and political affiliation.

A series of public speakers then excoriated Bessee and the possibility that the cannabis consultant's panel recommendations would be altered.

Song Kowbell said that if Bessee were added, she'd have a selection of her own for the advisory group. Without naming Bessee, both Joey Jordan and Brad Peceimer cautioned against naming him to the panel.

"The list seems to be very appropriate," Peceimer said of the initial 14 people recommended for the marijuana group.

Bessee and Johansen were two of 51 people who applied to serve on the group, though only 14 were chosen by MIG, Inc., the county's marijuana consultant, to serve.

Bessee, who didn't speak during the public comment period, said after the meeting that the advisory panel is a continuation of a countywide discussion on marijuana that began eight years ago.

"I foresee productive meetings," he said.

War and peace

Speakers shifted between themes of conflict and compromise as they argued to supervisors about the marijuana panel and cultivation in Nevada County.

Wade Freedle suggested that supervisors abandoned their duty to make decisions and handed the power to an advisory panel that's pro-marijuana.

"Measure W was a battle," Freedle said, invoking the June 2016 ballot measure that if passed would have banned outdoor grows. "We lost, but that was not the war. The war is still on. We have not surrendered and we are not going to surrender."

Diana Gamzon, director of the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, said there is no war. MIG is the bridge her group wants to bring a divided community together.

"This is a land-use issue in our county," Gamzon said.

Wade Laughter, who said he grows cannabis for medicinal reasons, said new state rules for cultivation are complex and challenging for those who want to be legal. He thanked supervisors for starting the local process that will lead to a permanent grow ordinance.

"Ideally, it doesn't turn into a war," he added.

Supervisor Heidi Hall said she wants no war, but instead an effort that brings people together. Supervisor Hank Weston made an analogy about bringing an enemy into discussions to reach compromise, referring to Bessee's appointment.

"We don't want war," said Daniel Iacofano, founding principal of MIG. "We want peace talks."

The community advisory committee, scheduled to meet eight times over the next several months, will hear from a wide cross-section of the community in its first six meetings. It will close the doors on its final two meetings, when it will focus on writing its recommendations.

Both Hren and Fran Freedle, speaking during public comment, opposed the closed meetings.

"I fully agree with The Union editorial board that these closed sessions should be opened sessions," Hren said.

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.

Note: This story has been updated to correct an incorrect spelling of Supervisor Hank Weston’s name.