Medical marijuana advocates who have been pursuing a court case against Nevada County’s cultivation ordinance expect a local judge to dismiss their suit today.
But members of the Nevada County chapter of Americans for Safe Access plan to push on with a ballot initiative to overturn the year-old ordinance — and in the meantime, they are putting on a town hall Saturday to prepare growers and patients for a new season of enforcement action by the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office.
The controversial ordinance, which was passed by the county Board of Supervisors in May 2012, regulates legal grows from a nuisance standpoint, limiting the size of grows depending on zoning, setbacks and plot size and imposing other restrictions, such as security fencing.
Americans for Safe Access-Nevada County filed suit against the county soon thereafter. The case was set to go to trial in mid-June, and is set for a hearing today and a settlement conference Monday.
But the group’s president, Patricia Smith, said Thursday that she believes Superior Court Judge Sean Dowling will dismiss the case entirely — or severely limit the causes of action on which the case can proceed.
That’s because the California Supreme Court recently ruled, in an unanimous decision, to affirm local jurisdictions’ legal right to manage medical marijuana through land use and zoning.
The court said neither the state’s voter-approved law legalizing medical marijuana nor a companion measure adopted by the Legislature prevent local governments from using land use and zoning powers to prohibit storefront dispensaries. The ruling came in a legal challenge to a ban enacted by the city of Riverside in 2010.
“I do believe the judge will dismiss our case entirely or define very narrowly the provisions we can proceed on,” Smith said. “We might have a shot on the (required) landlord letter under privacy rights.
“If it’s not something worthy to pursue, then of course we will drop the suit entirely and put those provisions in the initiative,” she continued. “We always figured we would get more relief out of the initiative than from court.”
ASA-Nevada County’s attorney, Jeffrey Lake, has drafted several versions, and Smith said she hopes to have a final version to submit to the county by the early part of June. ASA-NC plans to obtain 13,000 signatures — well over the roughly 9,000 signatures that would be required to qualify for a special election.
“We tried to get the county to mediate a reasonable settlement with us, but they have refused to come to the bargaining table,” Smith said.
Smith said the whole point of a ballot initiative is democracy — taking the issue directly to the people of Nevada County.
“We want to turn back the clock so we have minimum state threshold allowances for growers in this county,” she said.
“It will repeal the existing ordinance and replace it with ours, which could not be changed without a vote.”
The Sheriff’s Narcotics Task Force already is conducting compliance checks and will be adding a two-man team to assist them in early to mid-June, said Lt. Steve Tripp.
The Sheriff’s Office has been training all of the deputies on patrol to process the paperwork for the cultivation ordinance, Tripp said last month.
“They’re the ones who are out in the field,” he said. “If they do a call for service and they come across a garden that appears to be out of compliance, they can post the violation and do the paperwork.”
The task force then will do any necessary follow-up, as well as checking gardens based on tips received, and focusing on grows that appear illegal, Tripp said.
Ordinance enforcement will be the main topic of discussion at a town hall featuring Lake at the North San Juan Senior Center Saturday.
The event, which takes place from 2:15-4:20 p.m., is intended to prepare growers and patients for what Smith is calling a “zero-tolerance” approach by the Sheriff’s Office.
Lake will address concerns of patients that the ordinance will not allow them sufficient garden space to produce enough medicine to last from one grow season to the next, Smith said, estimating that thousands of patients will be affected this season.
The meeting is open to the general public.
A suggested donation of $25 is being asked to attend the meeting, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. For more information, visit www.asa-nc.com.
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.
“I do believe the judge will dismiss our case entirely or define very narrowly the provisions we can proceed on.”
— Patricia Smith, Americans for Safe Access-Nevada County