Our View: ‘Let the public decide’ on cannabis cultivation | TheUnion.com

Our View: ‘Let the public decide’ on cannabis cultivation

With a standing-room only crowd — even in the foyer — of the Rood Center Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors took on an important community issue of great interest in Nevada County, hosting a discussion that stretched nearly six hours on the cultivation of medicinal marijuana.

In the end, two board decisions set the course ahead for determining what will be considered as acceptable in the cultivation of cannabis in our community.

We agree with the board’s determination to put the question before voters in the June primary — as Sheriff Keith Royal said “let the public decide” — which will provide an opportunity to “hit the reset button” on the issue and establish a clear community standard.

However, we do take issue with decision to immediately ban outdoor cultivation through the “urgency ordinance” also approved Tuesday, one of the two proposed resolutions presented by Royal, and immediately ended the ability to grow under the guidelines established under the cultivation ordinance approved by supervisors in 2012.

Ultimately … the voters will have the final say on the ban of outdoor cultivation. And we agree that to be the right and correct approach to determine our community’s standard on cannabis cultivation.

On Tuesday, Royal told supervisors his office had seen “limited success” with the ordinance.

“We thought we were putting something in place that we thought would help resolve the complaints coming forward,” he said. “Since that time our complaints have gone up.”

Royal said the number of formal complaints had increased, as well as those made only on an informal basis — as residents declined to make formal complaints due to a fear of retribution in reporting grows in their neighborhoods. But just 14 months ago, as Royal and several supervisors argued against the failed Measure S — a ballot initiative seeking less restriction on cultivation — in November 2014, the county’s cultivation ordinance was considered as a success.

“The current Medical Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance permits medical marijuana cultivation in residential and agricultural areas and provides reasonable opportunities to grow marijuana for personal use, regulates nuisances related to criminal and commercial cultivation, and provides guidelines for legitimate marijuana cultivators to be good neighbors.

The County’s ordinance was written with extensive input from all sides and it works,” reads the argument against Measure S, signed by Royal and four supervisors serving at the time.

According to statistics provided by the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, the number of formal complaints filed remain lower than in 2013, when 379 were filed through Oct. 1.

Royal told supervisors that the need for an urgency ordinance was due to a state-mandated deadline of March 1 for California cities and counties to establish local laws regulating or prohibiting cultivation. That deadline was set forth by state law signed in October by Gov. Brown, offering the first state regulation on cannabis cultivation since Prop. 215 was passed in 1996.

But Assemblyman Jim Wood says the March 1 deadline was a mistake and he is working to have it rescinded, to provide more time on the local level.

Why couldn’t Nevada County’s supervisors wait to see if that will be the case at the state level, before taking action on the urgency ordinance banning outdoor cultivation? Even if the deadline remains in place the supervisors have three additional meetings scheduled before March 1, and the ability to call special meetings. Perhaps that time could have helped avoid what county officials say was an unintended “confusion” and “lack of clarity” in the language of the ballot measure (See story, page A1) approved by supervisors Tuesday.

During the presentation on the need for supervisors to take action, several public officials outlined very valid points on the nuisances that have cropped up under the county’s cultivation ordinance. Those concerns — strong pungent odors, negative environmental impacts, the threat to wildlife, the theft of water, as well as increased accessibility and use of marijuana by students — should all be considered in a thoughtful discussion and resulting legislation on this issue.

Many of the dozens of growers and patients who attended and spoke at the meeting acknowledged those concerns and agreed they should be addressed, as they sought to be in compliance with the law — including state law that allows them access to medicinal marijuana.

Ultimately, as county officials say they intended, the voters will have the final say on the ban of outdoor cultivation. And we agree that to be the right and correct approach to determine our community’s standard on cannabis cultivation.

“Since implementation of the current ordinance, we have seen a reduction in reported marijuana nuisance complaints,” Sheriff Royal wrote in a 2014 Other Voices for The Union.

“If we did not have the ordinance in place, we would have seen a dramatic increase in marijuana gardens in Nevada County.

“The current ordinance provides a balance between those who need to grow medicinal marijuana, and the quality of life of their neighbors. Let’s not take any steps backward let’s keep walking forward.

“The current ordinance is the ‘sensible solution,’ and it is working.”

We ask, with the urgent action taken Tuesday, “Where is that balance today?”

The weekly Our View column represents the opinions of The Union Editorial Board. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.

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