Voters to decide on Nevada County marijuana ordinance |

Voters to decide on Nevada County marijuana ordinance

Matthew Renda
Staff Writer

If all the necessary signatures are procured, Nevada County voters will decide how the county's controversial medical marijuana cultivation ordinance will look.

Patricia Smith, president of the Nevada County chapter of the Americans for Safe Access, said she was in the process of finalizing paperwork with the intention of submitting a request for a special election with the Nevada County Elections Office Tuesday.

Smith said she wants significant revisions to the current cultivation ordinance, which she said operates as a de facto ban on small medical marijuana growers.

"This ordinance just makes it easy to go after small mom-and pop operations," Smith said, adding laws are already on the books to address growers who are in violation of state and federal law.

“… an issue of this importance should be decided by the people.”

— Patricia Smith,
Americans for Safe Access-Nevada County President

After the board of supervisors approved the ordinance (four to one) in May 2012, Smith's group enlisted the services of attorney Jeffrey Lake and filed suit against the county, contending that the ordinance should make provisions that allow patients to collectively cultivate.

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The case was dismissed after the California Supreme Court decided in the City of Riverside v. The Inland Empire Patients Health & Wellness Collective that local jurisdictions have the right to regulate both cultivation and distribution via local land-use designations such as zoning ordinances.

However, Smith said while recognizing the importance of having an ordinance to restrict cultivation, particularly in residential areas, the current construction of the land use regulation goes too far.

"(More than) 70 percent of the registered voters that we polled thought the ordinance was overreaching," Smith said. "We believe that elected officials are put in office to represent the views of their constituents … an issue of this importance should be decided by the people."

Smith also said the cost of the special election — which is estimated to fall somewhere between $125,000 and $250,000 — could have been avoided had the county agreed to a few slight alterations to the regulation.

Gail Smith, assistant registrar of voters, said the last county-wide special election, which took place Jan. 8, cost about $166,000.

However, that special election was about 10,000 voters short of a full election as State Senate District 4, currently represented by Jim Nielsen, only covers a portion of Nevada County.

Along with removing the square-footage restrictions, Smith said fencing requirements are unreasonable, and the prohibition of terracing promotes unhealthy erosion.

"The current ordinance defines greenhouses as indoor cultivation, which excludes them from being used for outdoor cultivation," Smith said. "The use of greenhouses should be encouraged in all circumstances to control odor, obscure the garden from public view and to enhance security protections."

County Counsel Alison Barratt-Green has repeatedly asserted the county's right to employ local land-use regulations, which was supported by the recent Supreme Court decision.

Calls to the offices of the board of supervisors and the county executive office were not immediately returned Monday.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or 530-477-4239.

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