Measure S brings common sense back to cannabis cultivation | TheUnion.com
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Heather Burke

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Measure S brings common sense back to cannabis cultivation

Fifteen years ago, the thought of any local government authorizing cannabis cultivation was a pipe dream (pun intended) and I am very grateful to Nevada County for the fact that their current ordinance legitimizes the cultivation of medical cannabis in the first place.

Indeed, both Sheriff Keith Royal and County Counsel Allison Barrett-Green emphatically denied any plans to ban all cannabis cultivation if Measure S did not pass, as even the county government appears to understand cannabis cultivation isn't going anywhere. Quite honestly, there are worse things than the current ordinance, such as a Fresno County-style outright ban.

So, for that, I want to give Nevada County "props" where props are due.

With that said, however, it's no secret the current cultivation ordinance cannot be reconciled with the realities of how legal, medical, cannabis is grown in this county. It is no surprise Ordinance 2349 doesn't make sense with agricultural realities, since it was enacted as an knee-jerk measure without the reflection afforded the usual process for enacting local laws, and was in large part copied from other counties. Suffice it to say, the current ordinance was created by bureaucrats, however well-intended, who did not understand cannabis gardening and without meaningful input from actual cannabis cultivators.

For instance, the current ordinance does not allow cannabis to be grown on a terraced hill, as the plants have to be located on a contiguous single plane. However, the use of the natural terracing of the county's sloped landscape is a much better use of our most precious resource: water. Opponents of Measure S argue that cannabis cultivation uses too much water, but this is in part due to requirement that plants be grown in the manner least conducive to water conservation, i.e. a flat, single-plane, garden area. The county's stated purpose for this nonsensical rule is to make it easier for law enforcement to measure the garden size. Measure S will, however, change the quantity limitations from square footage to a specific plant number, which is undoubtedly easier to quantify.

Another way Measure S brings common sense back to local cannabis cultivation is that it continues to restrict cultivation on residential parcels under two acres. Rather than allowing a "free for all," as is often posited by opponents to the measure, the ban on growing in small residential parcels in conjunction with the concurrent allowance for 60 mature plants on rural properties greater than 30 acres encourages cannabis patients to move their plants to the outlying areas, and to reduce cannabis plants grown in towns. This push to the more rural areas, again, (surprise!) makes sense.

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I should briefly note here the current ordinance puts landowners in the precarious legal position of admitting knowledge of, and consenting to, cannabis cultivation on their rental properties. Since landowners already have full rights to restrict cultivation on their properties, it makes no sense to add more pointless laws to the books when landowners are already protected by state law and by common sense (just put it in the lease!).

For those illegal marijuana grows that steal water and decimate the environment, the conversation on Measure S needs to make clear that neither ordinance applies to gardens grown in violation of state law, as both Measure S and Ordinance 2349 apply only to legal medical cannabis cultivation. Don't we all want to encourage growers to get into compliance so we can regulate their impact on our natural resources, such as water? The current ordinance, however, is so antithetical to the realities of growing cannabis that very few, if any, growers seek to be in compliance at the outset of the growing season because the rules punish small medical growers for the conduct of illegal growers. And, the more our county restricts legal cultivation in a manner that is so disconnected with basic principles of gardening (any plant), we are paving the way for the bad guys in what we all know is an ever-expanding marijuana marketplace.

We should seek to regain a common sense approach to marijuana cultivation by enacting local legislation that encourages medical cannabis to be grown in outlying areas in environmentally friendly ways that encourages compliance, and thereby forces out the illegal drug dealers, thieves, and environmental degradation.

A "Yes on S" vote is the right choice to bring common sense back to cannabis cultivation in Nevada County.

Heather Burke lives in Nevada City.