Nevada County voters to decide pro, con on Measure S |

Nevada County voters to decide pro, con on Measure S

A debate on Measure S hosted by the League of Women Voters took place Thursday at the Nevada County Board of Supervisors chamber in Nevada City. Representing “Yes on S” were attorney Stephen Munkelt, far left, and Measure S leader Patricia Smith, second from left. Nevada County Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Smethers, second from right, and Nevada County District Attorney Cliff Newell spoke for the “No on S” side.
John Hart/ | The Union

Both sides in the battle over Measure S claimed this week their favored set of rules offers the most benefit to Nevada County residents.

Voters now will decide whose argument they believe when Measure S, the revised medical marijuana cultivation ordinance, comes before them on the Nov. 4 ballot.

If adopted by voters, Measure S would repeal the current Nevada County medical marijuana cultivation ordinance 2349 and substitute a new set of guidelines that “Yes on S” supporters say are “sensible” and easier to follow for growers who want to be in compliance. That would improve access to medicine for people with cancer or other illnesses who get relief from medical marijuana, “Yes on S” supporters say.

“No on S” backers, however, insist that the current Nevada County cultivation ordinance 2349 is working very well to reduce complaints and keep the issue under control. They said replacing it with Measure S would leave the community without enough structure.

The two sides clashed Thursday night before a capacity crowd of about 250 people at the county’s Rood administration building in Nevada City. Despite some heated rebuttals and strong disagreements, the two-hour forum, hosted by the Nevada County chapter of League of Women Voters, was civil.

The only outburst was one of widespread cheering when a member of the media announced, midway through the event, “The (SF) Giants are going to the World Series!”

Representing “Yes on S” were Measure S leader Patricia Smith and attorney Stephen Munkelt. Nevada County District Attorney Cliff Newell and Nevada County Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Smethers spoke for the “No on S” side.

“No matter what your beliefs about marijuana are, Measure S is simply bad law,” Newell said in his opening statement. “S is poorly written and creates an unenforceable ordinance that will have very long-lasting negative impacts on the citizens of Nevada County.”

Newell claimed Measure S would “help the illegal growers out, because it guts the county’s ordinance that currently provides common sense guidelines for patients to grow medical marijuana.”

But Smith said the current ordinance was “impossible” for medical marijuana patients to comply with due to “27 pages of restrictions, starting with no growing on hillsides — in hill country, which eliminates 99 percent of the properties here.” She said the motive for Measure S was “we need sensible guidelines.”

“If the county had been willing to revise (2349), none of this would have happened,” she added. “We tried for 2 1/2 years to get the county supervisors to amend the ordinance, but they would not budge.”

Numerous clinical studies have found medical marijuana not only may relieve some symptoms of cancer and improve quality of life, but also, in some instances, help to reverse the progress of the disease, Smith said.

The last day to register to vote is Monday. Nevada County Clerk-Recorder Registrar of Voters Gregory Diaz said any voter who has questions about his or her registration status should visit the county website, http://www.mynevadacounty/nc/elections or contact the elections office, 530-265-1298 #0, Room 250, Rood Building, 950 Maidu Ave., Nevada City.

On Thursday night, meanwhile, the two sides fielded questions from the audience and from the media, disagreeing on nearly every point. Highlights include:

— More marijuana or less?

Newell claimed Measure S would “more than double the amount of marijuana grown” because Measure S allows a medical marijuana patient to grow both indoors and outdoors at the same time, while the current ordinance only allows one or the other.

Smith said the indoor grows are only for maintaining the mother stock for specific plant strains. If the stock is not maintained, the specific strain is lost, she said.

Smith also said the amount of medical marijuana grown could be reduced because growers under Measure S would be limited to six plants per patients, up to a maximum of 60 mature (99 immature) plants on 30 acres. The county ordinance sets limits according to square footage, up to a limit of 1,000 square feet on 20 or more acres.

— More enforcement or less?

Newell claimed Measure S eliminates the enforcement section of the county ordinance.

Smethers said the current ordinance is working and that complaints and abatement actions are down. “We only had eight abatements so far this year,” he said.

Smith said Measure S took out the enforcement part so that law enforcement could focus on the illegal non-medicinal criminal grows and so that the county Sheriff’s Office and the Board of Supervisors would be free to create their own enforcement structure.

Munkelt said leaving out the enforcement part clears up confusion because medicinal marijuana cultivation is a land-use compliance issue, not a “criminal forfeiture” issue, as he claims exists with 2349.

— More fencing or less?

Smith said Measure S requires that “the plants are not to be visible to the public, at any stage of growth.” It leaves the actual type of fence up to the grower, who, she said, has a vested interest in protecting the grow from thieves and trespassers.

The current ordinance requires a 6- to 8-foot-high fence with a locking gate.

— Setbacks?

The current ordinance imposes 1,000-foot setbacks from schools, churches, parks, day care centers, school bus stops and youth facilities.

Measure S adopts the state guidelines of 600-foot setbacks. Smith said many of the school bus stops noted currently are abandoned.

— Future for Nevada County if recreational marijuana legalized in 2016?

If all marijuana is legalized in 2016, local regulations would supercede anything that the state adopts.

Both Newell and Smith said their respective regulations would best allow Nevada County to continue operating effectively and safely, despite any new state guidelines.

— Illegal grows?

Both sides said that neither 2349 nor Measure S are designed to enforce criminal penalties on people running large grows for profit and resell elsewhere. That enforcement is of state law, which does not allow recreational marijuana grows and federal law, which outlaws all marijuana grows.

“You already have all those illegal grows under the current ordinance,” Smith said, responding to allegations that Measure S would increase the number of large illegal grows.

— Access for patients to medical marijuana?

Smith said many patients are unable to grow enough medicinal plants for themselves, either because they are not able to comply with the county ordinance, don’t have the proper facilities or are otherwise unable to grow enough plants for their needs. Under Measure S, those patients can join a collective where someone will grow for them.

The county ordinance has no collective provision, and Nevada County does not allow for medical marijuana dispensaries.

“I have people calling me every day that they don’t have enough medicine,” Smith said Thursday.

Newell said there was ample opportunities to buy medical marijuana products online or in person through dispensaries in other areas.

— Landlord consent?

The current ordinance requires that tenants obtain written and notarized permission from landlords.

Measure S removes that requirement. Smith said that gives landlords the options to include a clause in their leases, impose a “premium” payment similar to a pet allowance or charge higher rents.

— Future lawsuits?

Newell said Measure S would result in “job security for lawyers” because he believes it will lead to numerous court cases.

Smith said “Yes on S” has ample evidence of grounds for a lawsuit, but that she had not yet decided if she would pursue that course.

Nevada County Superior Court Judge Sean Dowling has ruled that the ballot label for Measure S was not impartial as required by law, but the judge said at the time it was too late to have the ballots reprinted.

— Hillsides?

The current ordinance prohibits growing on hillsides, even if terracing is used.

Measure S would allow hillside growing and encourages terracing, which Smith said was an ecologically sound practice since it reduced erosion and water use.

The Union has included copies of both 2349 and Measure S in its online version at, along with a comparison compiled by staff.

To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email or call 530-477-4239.

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