Nevada County marijuana: Supes pass outdoor grow ban in 4-to-1 vote
January 15, 2016
The Nevada County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 4-to-1 to implement an urgency ordinance that immediately prohibits outdoor marijuana grows and limits the number of indoor medicinal plants.
The board also voted 4-to-1 to place the issue on the June 7 ballot, giving county voters the option to uphold or discard that ordinance.
Supervisor Richard Anderson, who represents eastern Nevada County, opposed both votes.
The vote on Sheriff Keith Royal's recommended ordinance, which allows only civil penalties such as fines, came after some five hours of public comment. The sheriff and several others detailed reasons to ban outdoor cultivation — the pungent smell marijuana brings, as well as butane honey oil labs, water theft and wildlife concerns.
“A lot of these grows, there have been threats to (NID staff) ranging from general bodily injury to death.”Remleh Scherzinger general manager of the Nevada Irrigation District
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Opponents of the measure pointed to the economic benefit medical marijuana brings to the county, noting they want to work within the law.
A vast majority of speakers opposed the sheriff's recommendation to prohibit outdoor grows as they spoke, one by one, to the board during the public comment period.
Forrest Hurd's voice broke slightly as he told the board about Silas, his 8-year-old son, who suffered over 500 seizures a month before using medical marijuana. The medicine, Hurd said, stopped nine out of 10 of his son's seizures.
"I need this medicine to save my son's life," Hurd said. "This young man needs medicine."
Mark Johnson argued that banning outdoor grows will create criminals, increase the use of pesticides and cause more gunfights.
"We're not doing anything wrong," Johnson said. "We're doing it by the law. I need this drug. It's saving my life and I can't do it indoors."
Aja Salvatore wryly suggested the board implement the outdoor ban, noting it would then see $340 million leave the local economy.
"We need that type of nonsensical legislation," Salvatore said. "You've tried to shut us down. It's over."
David Rice, with the Nevada County chapter of the California Growers Association, said a lack of regulations can lead some to exploit the system. Instead of banning outdoor grows, Rice suggested working with the board to develop regulations.
"Bans don't work," Rice said. "Bans don't solve problems."
Others made the same argument, asking the board delay its decision until an alternative could be found.
Harry Bennett, a self-described cannabis grower, urged the board against passing the ordinance.
"I am a member of this community and I am a medical cannabis grower," he said. "Let's sit down and work together. We can find something that's right for our community and live happily ever after."
A handful of people supported Royal's ordinance. Don Bessee, executive director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said the new statewide marijuana law gives counties the power to restrict cultivation. He argued local voters already made their decision when they overwhelmingly defeated Measure S — a November 2014 medical marijuana cultivation initiative.
Keith Davies, CEO of the Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, also supported the sheriff. He said prospective businesses ask about the county's marijuana laws.
"We're not losing business because the feel is we have control over it," Davies said, adding, "I don't want to see Nevada County become a marijuana county."
The other side
Royal approached the board with two requests. He first wanted it to implement an urgency ordinance that would implement new marijuana regulations in the county — no outdoor grows and indoor grows limited to 12 plants.
The sheriff also asked for the ordinance to be put to the voters on June 7.
"I think it's the only fair thing to do," Royal said.
Royal said the board needed a local marijuana ordinance before a March 1 deadline. If that date isn't met, the state would impose its own rules. The sheriff added that claims the deadline would be removed by the Legislature aren't certain.
Royal called several speakers to address the board during his presentation, among them sheriff's Lt. Bill Smethers. Head of the county's narcotics task force, Smethers said growers are close to businesses, schools and parks. Grows also result in heavy traffic both day and night. Smethers said he had 332 complaints as of Oct. 27. His office conducted 126 compliance checks and issued 72 citations.
According to Smethers, some people advertise local real estate as a good place to grow marijuana. One real estate agent called the area an open grow county as a method of drawing clients.
Smethers showed the board a video of officers searching a butane honey oil lab. Photos followed of large, outdoor grows.
Opponents of Royal's proposal dismissed the video and photos, calling those examples criminal and saying they want to obey the law. Attorney Heather Burke said people constantly ask how they can become compliant.
Royal's speakers, however, emphasized examples of criminal noncompliance.
Remleh Scherzinger, general manager of the Nevada Irrigation District, said his office is concerned with the safety of its staff.
"A lot of these grows, there have been threats to staff ranging from general bodily injury to death," Scherzinger said.
Mike Dent, director of the county's Social Services Department, said 80 percent of referrals from Child Protective Services involve substance abuse. He sees referrals increase when the school year begins. Some children bring marijuana to school.
"Some teachers have to put certain backpacks outside the room because of the odor," Dent said.
In other matters the board:
• Unanimously chose Supervisor Dan Miller to serve as chairman for this year. It tapped Supervisor Hank Weston to serve as vice-chairman.
"It will be an interesting year," Miller said.
• Honored Tom Quinn, former supervisor of the Tahoe National Forest. Quinn retired after 35 years of service.
• Approved an online campaign disclosure system. The system will enable candidates to file their disclosures online and allow people to view the disclosures from any computer with an Internet connection.
To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.