Dan Miller, Hank Weston: Our rationale for Measure W in Nevada County | TheUnion.com

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Dan Miller, Hank Weston: Our rationale for Measure W in Nevada County

Keeping the public informed is of vital importance to the Board of Supervisors. Our goal is to be as clear as possible and to eliminate any confusion when the Board makes a decision or establishes policy. In this article, we will explain the reasoning that resulted in our creation of Measure W and placing it on the June ballot.

Measure W is strictly about controlling nuisance, environmental and public safety impacts from outdoor grows. It is not about whether marijuana has medicinal properties or who should have access to it.

If approved, Measure W would:

• Uphold the current ban on outdoor cultivation and associated commercial marijuana activities. Indoor cultivation of up to 12 plants at a time would still be permitted in legal, non-residential structures. There is no limit on the size of the plants or the number of crops that can be grown in a year.

Measure W is strictly about controlling nuisance, environmental and public safety impacts from outdoor grows. It is not about whether marijuana has medicinal properties or who should have access to it.

• Help reduce the environmental damage from large outdoor grows such as discarding of trash, human waste, illegal use of pesticides, illegal grading, poisoning of wildlife, unauthorized diversion of water from streams and substandard storage of hazardous materials.

• Reduce neighborhood impacts such as traffic, odor, and criminal activity.

• Relieve pressure on County social services programs such as mental and behavioral health, adult/child protective services and welfare.

• Re-define Nevada County's legacy as safe and welcoming for families and new businesses.

How did we get here? In May of 2012, Nevada County enacted Article 5 of the General Code that established comprehensive civil regulations governing the cultivation of medical marijuana within the unincorporated areas of Nevada County. This was in response to SB 420, which tried to address the needs of individuals who needed marijuana for medical use. It guided the formation of collectives that would create a nexus between marijuana patients and their need to collectively grow with other patients. It was a noble thought and action, but resulted in an inordinate amount of violations, criminal activity and confusion.

Our 2012 ordinance tried to address those pitfalls, remove some of the confusion and still be sensitive to Proposition 215 and SB 420. It permitted either outdoor or indoor cultivation and the size of the growing area depended on your parcel size and zoning. Still, the medical marijuana cultivation community was not happy with the restrictions of that ordinance. So in 2014, medical marijuana advocates brought Measure S to the voters. They wanted expanded growing areas and plant count. They wanted to remove the requirement for landowner consent to medical marijuana cultivation on their property. They said that cultivation does not cause environmental damage, which we have found to be false. Measure S made no provisions for enforcement, public nuisance notices and abatement. With Measure S, proponents tried to do the same thing that they are criticizing the Board for. Let the voters decide. They knew that a voter approved initiative could only be overturned by another ballot measure. But Measure S was soundly rejected by the voters of Nevada County.

Despite the Board's effort to create fair regulations, since 2012 there has been increased marijuana cultivation throughout the unincorporated areas of the county in violation of the provisions of Article 5. In addition, the complex regulations that defined cultivation areas have proven cumbersome and problematic to administer and enforce.

In January 2016, the Board adopted Ordinance #2405, which prohibits outdoor cultivation and associated commercial marijuana activities. Indoor cultivation of up to 12 plants at a time is still permitted in legal, non-residential structures, including greenhouses. At the same time, the Board agreed to put a measure ("W") on the June 7 ballot that does the following:

• A Yes vote would affirm the current outdoor grow ban in place

• A No vote would leave the current urgency ordinance in place; but the Board has agreed, by Resolution, to remove the ban on outdoor cultivation and develop alternative regulations after the election results are certified.

Ordinance #2405 and Measure W were not invented by the Sheriff and then forced upon the Board as some have claimed. At our Jan. 12 meeting, we heard statements from Sheriff's staff, Social Services Director Mike Dent; Dr. Brian Evans, Vice President of Medical Affairs and Emergency Medicine Physician at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital; and Superintendent of Schools Holly Hermansen, among others. Their statements were troubling. They spoke about increased availability and exposure to minors, referrals to Child Protective Services for unsafe living conditions, doubling of medical emergencies related to marijuana, and kids being sent home from school because of the smell of pot on their clothes. An overriding concern is Nevada County being seen as a magnet for outdoor growing activity. Numerous studies show marijuana is harmful to the adolescent brain, although teens do not see it as harmful. Due to the prevalence and acceptance of marijuana use in our society, there is a perception among our youth that marijuana is "OK".

The California Behavioral Health Directors Association reports that while repeated marijuana use during adolescence may result in long-lasting changes in brain function that can jeopardize educational, professional, and social achievements, its effects on health are also influenced by its availability and social acceptability. This is why some say alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous than illegal drugs — because their legal status allows for more widespread exposure.

For this reason, County health directors across the State recommend that policy makers develop regulatory strategies that are "far more robust and sustainable than currently envisioned." This is our goal with Measure W.

Ultimately, we as elected officials are charged with protecting the public health and safety, and we work together to meet that obligation. The revised provisions in the recent urgency ordinance are intended to address increased nuisance complaints, environmental damage and criminal activity associated with these expanded outdoor grows; but also to send the message that we are not an "open grow" county. Over the past four years we have personally viewed these massive grows from the air and on the ground, seen the pollution and daily crime reports. The Board has received numerous calls, in-person comments, emails and letters from residents who are fed up with marijuana in their neighborhoods. If we ignored these impacts we would be "abdicating our responsibility" to protect the public health and safety and the integrity of our neighborhoods.

Some argue that Nevada County should use the State's new Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act ("MMRSA"), as a guide to develop our own regulations, and that voters are likely to approve recreational marijuana in September. However, even if recreational marijuana becomes legal, both MMRSA and the proposed State initiative preserve the ability of local jurisdictions to regulate cultivation and protect health, safety and quality of life within their borders.

We respect the health concerns of legitimate patients who use medical marijuana. This is why we do not propose outright prohibition. Our current ordinance and Measure W are consistent with Proposition 215 (which decriminalizes cultivation, possession, use and sale of medical cannabis) and MMRSA. Medical marijuana cultivation of up to 12 plants of any size is still permitted indoors, with no limit on number of harvests. However, we need to balance the needs of patients with our concerns about the harmful effects that widespread exposure to marijuana has on our society, especially our youth.

Measure W opponents have been organized, passionate and extremely vocal, and believe they represent a majority of constituents in their desire to allow regulated outdoor marijuana cultivation. However, the 62,000 voters in Nevada County deserve to have their voices heard. This is why we believe a ballot measure is needed — it is important to hear from all voters to determine what really is the majority opinion and how we want to define our community.

Dan Miller is the District 3 supervisor and chairman of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors. Hank Weston, vice chairman, is the District 4 supervisor.