On May 8 of this year, the Nevada County Board of Supervisors passed an “urgency” ordinance to limit the amount of cannabis that could be grown on one’s property depending on the zoning designation and the parcel size if they have the proper medical recommendations.
The stated purpose of the ordinance was to reduce the number of nuisance calls received by the sheriff’s office from neighbors who were inconvenienced by the odors coming from their neighbor’s garden. To date, the actual number of complaints is unknown, but according to the sheriff, it is fewer than 170 from a county with a population of nearly 100,000 residents.
Now I am the first to agree that property owners are entitled to the reasonable enjoyment of their homes, but where do you draw the line when neighbors’ rights collide? The way this ordinance is set up, it encourages neighbors to turn in neighbors. Rather than reduce the number of calls the sheriff receives, I predict the number will grow. Neighbors will start reporting all kinds of violations they previously overlooked in a tit-for-tat retaliation. Better make sure that shed on your property is up to code before you start complaining about others!
We’ve already seen an extreme example of this behavior in our county. Recently an ASA member and stage four Hodgkin’s Disease patient received a code compliance violation in her mailbox. It had Sheriff Royal’s business card in the upper right hand corner so it looked official. There was a list of supposed violations, including State and Federal tax evasion, selling a controlled substance and various other allegations. A Google map picture showed her garden and listed the parcel number. The “citation” demanded immediate abatement of her garden.
It turns out it was a phony document created by a disgruntled neighbor who supposed “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” However three days later, the real Narcotics Task Force showed up (without notice or a warrant) to inspect her garden. Our member’s small four-person family collective had planted its garden according to California state guidelines well before the ordinance was adopted May 8 but allegedly became out of compliance once it passed. She received a citation for exceeding the 300-square-foot restriction, for not having an adequate fence with a lock, (her garden is not visible from the road), for not being on a level plane (her property slopes) and for not having one person’s recommendation on site.
This one example shows how the ordinance was designed to make it virtually impossible for anyone to be in complete compliance. To fit its plants into the ridiculously small 300-square-foot restriction, the collective would have had to reduce its plant count to fewer than eight, which would have been totally inadequate to meet its members’ medical needs — and there’s not a lot they can do about the slant of their terrain. As I mentioned, our member has stage four Hodgkin’s Disease, and her husband has cancer. Both need more medicine than the average patient to prepare tinctures and edibles to treat their conditions. They live 5 miles outside of town in a rural agricultural area — precisely where collective growing should be located. With the Colfax dispensary closed, these elderly patients will now have to drive to Sacramento every week to get their medicine.
What’s worse is that the neighbor who created the phony documents has now hired a lawyer to sue our member for aggravating her allergies with the odor and pollen from her garden, which includes rosemary plants. This same neighbor has cannabis cultivators located on both sides of her property that mysteriously don’t affect her allergies. Obviously this is one neighbor with a personal vendetta using the cover of the ordinance to harass her elderly neighbor.
Sheriff Royal said during a recent KVMR interview that the Sheriff’s Department investigated the matter of the neighbor impersonating a law officer and decided “it didn’t rise to the level of a crime.”
Really? If patients cannot get relief from their local officials or the courts, the only solution left is to file an initiative and let the voters decide the issue for themselves. Again. Americans for Safe Access-NC urges anyone who is experiencing similar harassment to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our hotline at (530) 270-9273.
Patricia Smith is the president of Americans for Safe Access, Nevada County.
The way this ordinance is set up, it encourages neighbors to turn in neighbors.