The primary election is still five weeks away, but I can’t wait for the general election in November when Nevada County voters will confront their own version of “reefer madness.”
Unlike the 1930s’ propaganda film that prompts hilarity and ridicule among marijuana reformers, our little drama pits medical marijuana advocates against residents who consider pot growers a nuisance and law-and-order types who see it as a gateway drug to even greater evils.
The showdown was created last week when the county board of supervisors voted to place a voter initiative that would permit larger medical marijuana crops on the November ballot, bypassing the options of calling a special election before then or just declaring it the new county ordinance.
There was little chance the supervisors would do anything else — the supes weren’t about to spend $300,000 for a special election or throw out their own ordinance — but that didn’t stop people from packing the supervisors’ chambers.
Practically everybody who spoke either supported or panned the county’s current medical marijuana ordinance, laying out the talking points we’ll be hearing from now until November.
Backers of medical marijuana speak passionately about how the drug has helped relieve their own pain and suffering and helped loved ones. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest there’s merit to their claims.
Researchers at the University of California conducted seven clinical trials involving 300 subjects between 2002 and 2012. They concluded that marijuana is a promising therapy for pain caused by nerve damage, HIV, diabetes, stroke and other conditions.
The backers of the initiative, Americans for Safe Access-Northern California, claim the current county ordinance doesn’t permit the cultivation of enough medical marijuana to meet local demand. If it passes, ASA’s cultivation measure would significantly increase the allowable size of marijuana gardens in Nevada County.
That’s where the situation becomes sticky. The current ordinance — considered an “urgency” ordinance that was passed by the supervisors in 2012 with little input from medical marijuana advocates — was supposed to address the nuisance issues caused by unregulated cultivation of medical marijuana.
You can make the case that California’s current medical marijuana industry is hardly what voters thought they were approving in 1996 when Proposition 215 was pitched to the electorate as a palliative for people with AIDS, glaucoma, cancer and other diseases.
Certainly, outdoor cultivation can be a public nuisance at a minimum and a crime magnet and environmental scourge in the extreme. In this area, the cities of Sacramento, Elk Grove and West Sacramento have banned outdoor cultivation. Fresno County has done the same and Sacramento County instituted a ban last week.
The people who grow medical marijuana for its intended use can’t stop the bad actors from using Proposition 215 as a cover for their illegal operations, and this is where innocent property owners can get caught in the cross-fire. There have been several instances in recent years of people trying to rip off pot growers, including one that involved a high-speed chase and gun shots on Highway 49.
“The would-be criminals know who’s got the most marijuana,” said Sheriff Keith Royal. “They know who’s the easiest target.”
Pot activity in the county is entering a more dangerous phase with the increased interest in butane honey oil (BHO), a process that utilizes butane to extract the chemical THC from marijuana. This can produce explosive results, as a Truckee man learned recently when he was seriously burned in a house explosion while using the BHO process.
“BHO is to marijuana what crack is to cocaine,” said Truckee Police Capt. Rob Leftwich. “The BHO extraction process is incredibly dangerous to everyone in the household.” He called BHO a “growing trend which will soon reach epidemic proportions.”
These outcomes are to be expected when our leaders refuse to lead. Proposition 215 was passed by California’s voters because state officials wouldn’t address the issue of using marijuana for legitimate medical purposes. That produced a poorly written initiative that is still being litigated 18 years after it was passed.
Even today there are two measures before the state Legislature designed to overhaul marijuana regulation. One measure, backed by the state’s police chiefs (SB 1226), would limit marijuana use to the truly sick, while another (AB 1984) would authorize the state Alcohol Beverage Control Board to regulate pot. Do you think that will solve the problem?
The supervisors helped contribute to this problem by rushing — ramming may be a better word — through the current ordinance without taking into consideration the concerns of medical marijuana advocates. Now we get to spend $72,000 to revisit the issue in November.
And if the initiative passes? It will be implemented by public officials who oppose it.
Of course, all of this could be rendered meaningless if a state initiative to legalize recreational marijuana is approved by California voters in 2016 or if the Republicans regain control of the White House in the same year.
Reefer madness, indeed.
George Boardman lives in Lake of the Pines. His column appears in Monday editions of The Union.