Nevada County supervisors tweak cannabis ordinance, set for May 14 vote on new rules (VIDEO)
Due to an editing error the percentage of support area was reported incorrectly. This number has since been updated. The Union regrets the error.
Over three years ago, Nevada County supervisors implemented a total outdoor marijuana grow ban.
On Tuesday they debated the maximum size of an area where commercial growers can dry, cure, trim, roll, package and store their product.
The discussion at a special meeting of supervisors was one of the last steps before a vote on a new cannabis grow ordinance and the certification of an accompanying environmental impact report.
Supervisors are scheduled to vote on both at their regular May 14 meeting.
Cannabis advocates want supervisors to pass the new rules as an urgency ordinance, meaning it would go into effect immediately. Typically, ordinances become effective 30 days after passage and require a majority vote only.
“An urgency ordinance will need a four-fifths vote,” CEO Alison Lehman said.
Supervisors listened Tuesday to over two hours of public comment before tackling a handful of unresolved issues in the ordinance. The size of a support area — where cannabis is dried, packaged and stored — was a major concern, as was a suggested increase of a 100-foot setback for grows.
The ordinance called for a grow’s support area to cap at 25% of canopy size. Cultivators pushed for 90%, a number supervisors agreed upon.
Supervisors also agreed to maintain the 100-foot setback. A requirement that growers have a $5,000 certificate of deposit was widened to also allow a bond. A two-year transition period, to allow cultivators to bring grow-related structures into compliance, remains in place.
A decision on changing fees for medicinal only, or non-renumerative, grows was delayed until June. A process remains in the works for granting a variance to a permitted structure within the 100-foot property setback.
“Today represented the culmination of three years of collaborative policy making amongst interests across the entire community,” said Diana Gamzon, executive director of the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, in an email. “We are excited to see a responsible and professional cannabis industry emerge.”
The ordinance, not yet in place, would allow commercial medicinal grows in General Agricultural, Exclusive Agricultural and Forest zones, if they’re on 5 acres or more. Grows are capped at 10,000 square feet and must sit on at least 20 properly zoned acres.
Rules differ for indoor, mixed light and outdoor grows. No outdoor grow is allowed under 5 acres.
Cultivators need two permits: one based off the grow’s size and an annual permit.
Many people spoke to supervisors about the restriction of a support area to 25% of total canopy size. They also asked supervisors to keep setbacks at 100 feet, arguing that increasing them could put many out of business.
John Foley, one of many who spoke during the public comment period, said the board would create an “extinction event” if it increased the setbacks. Carolyn Price compared a setback change to throwing a wrench in the works.
Cannabis attorney Heather Burke listed a series of grows in the five supervisor districts, stating their sizes and requests of the farmers who operate them. Recurring issues are increasing the support area, removing a requirement to have a $5,000 certificate of deposit to secure a permit and the 100-foot setback.
“Do not push this family out by increasing setbacks,” Burke said of one client.
Rosemary Metrailer — a former member of the county’s community advisory group, a citizen’s panel that created recommendations for the cannabis ordinance — advised supervisors against making unreasonable setbacks. She argued that cannabis farming is a business and a method people use to support their families.
“We do not do this to pig farmers,” she said. “We do not do this to ranchers.”
David Franco also emphasized the business aspect of cannabis grows. He questioned how the community could help grows become more resilient, and how a local supply chain could be created.
“I’m watching an industry grow out of nothing,” Franco said. “It’s coming out of the shadows and into the light.”
A handful of people spoke about medicinal marijuana patients. Song Kowbell slammed supervisors for what she described as creating a de facto ban without truly implementing one. Someone who doesn’t own a large enough parcel can’t grow.
“I’m just appalled,” she said. “You haven’t made it easier for us. Not everybody in this county is rich.”
Wade Laughter urged supervisors to quickly pass the ordinance. Concerning medical patients, Laughter said many people can’t buy their medicine at a dispensary because of the high cost. Others can’t obtain the necessary permits to grow despite their ongoing need.
“There is a legitimate, medical need,” Laughter said.
To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.
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