As California eyes legalizing recreational marijuana use, local jurisdictions are sparring over how to regulate pot production and sales, with controversial cultivation measures in Nevada and Yuba counties topping the list of five initiatives set for a June 7 vote.
The neighboring Sierra foothill counties are roiling with political arguments over marijuana growing, with communities divided over whether efforts to ban outdoor pot farms unfairly affect legitimate medical marijuana producers and patients.
In Nevada County, Measure W seeks to reinforce a January vote by the Board of Supervisors that banned outdoor marijuana growing in the county, a renowned cannabis haven where pot gardens first bloomed with the arrival of hippies and homesteaders in the 1960s.
In Yuba County, Measure A seeks to overturn an outdoor growing ban imposed by supervisors last year by permitting residents to grow six outdoor plants on properties of less than an acre and up to 60 plants on parcels 20 acres or larger.
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In Sacramento, city voters will consider a 5 percent tax on commercial marijuana cultivation under an initiative that would direct revenues to programs for at-risk youths. A Davis ballot measure would allow a tax of up to 10 percent on recreational marijuana sales, even though the city has no plans to authorize pot stores should recreational use be approved in California.
By far, the most politically charged battles center on the outdoor cultivation measures in Nevada and Yuba counties, where supervisors and many residents have complained of negative impacts from marijuana growers drawn to the region in recent years.
Nevada County in 2012 approved rules allowing outdoor marijuana cultivation ranging from 75-square-foot gardens on small properties to 1,000-square-foot grows on larger parcels. Yuba County that same year passed a similar program that allowed a maximum of 99 plants on the largest properties.
Officials said marijuana cultivation surged and many growers exceeded the limits, while also stealing water, dumping sediment into creeks and leaving toxic waste – including butane cans from honey oil labs that use the volatile solvent to process pot concentrates.
“People just didn’t care anymore and they started growing as much as they wanted to,” said Nevada County Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Miller, who in January led a 4-1 vote to ban outdoor marijuana gardens and all commercial production in the county of 100,000 residents. “The county was trying to be lenient and understanding. That leniency was taken advantage of.”
While banning outdoor marijuana, the county ordinance allowed residents to grow up to 12 marijuana plants indoors with lighting restrictions. Now, if passed by voters, Measure W would effectively prohibit supervisors from reworking the new rules unless voters approve the changes in another election.
The cultivation fight has taken on an emotional context as opposition to Measure W has been led by a father of an 8-year-old child suffering from debilitating seizures and developmental challenges.
The child, Silas Hurd, has a form of potentially life-threatening epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. His father, Forrest Hurd, said Silas has made marked improvements after taking difficult-to-obtain cannabis tinctures crafted for the child by small medical marijuana cultivators in Nevada County who grow plants outdoors.
Hurd, 36, portrays the ban as a threat to his son’s well-being and takes public offense over pro-Measure W campaign signs that bear the slogan, “It’s not about medicine.”
“It would make me feel good if they were actually eradicating these bad actors” responsible for marijuana problems in the county, Hurd said. “But they’re going after patients. They’re going after families.”
The county was trying to be lenient and understanding. That leniency was taken advantage of.
Nevada County Board of Supervisors chairman Dan Miller
In Yuba County, Terry Comer, who used to grow up to 50 marijuana plants before the outdoor ban there, said officials in both places overreacted by depriving lawful medical medical marijuana growers of their livelihoods while failing to target vast pot farms of rogue cultivators and criminal marijuana traffickers.
“There was a mad scramble and the counties said, ‘Let’s ban it and then work it out,’ ” Comer said. “The momentum swung to the people who were against marijuana anyway. And now it’s just a blood bath. Here in Yuba and neighboring counties, it’s really, really intense.”
Comer, an advocate for the medical marijuana group Committee for Safe Public Access to Regulated Cannabis, is also a protagonist in another closely watched Yuba County marijuana initiative fight.
He is a backer of Measure B, which, if passed, would allow four medical marijuana dispensaries in the county of 73,000 residents. The measure would permit one dispensary for each 20,000 residents (the population number is rounded up).
The effort to overturn the county’s outdoor cultivation ban by passing Measure A is being led by a group called Citizens For Solvency. Its founder, Angelique Perez, operates a Marysville hydroponics store called Two Chix.
Perez said Measure A, which would impose county fees of $40 per plant on outdoor gardens, could generate $1 million in annual revenues for local government. As it stands now, she said, the county is getting nothing.
The ballot argument signed by Perez hails Measure A as “common sense regulation” that will benefit “all Yuba County residents through proper taxation and fees” and “economic enhancement.” The measure also would limit nuisance complaints on marijuana gardens to people who live or work within 600 feet of the pot farms.
The economic argument doesn’t impress retired former sheriff Virginia Black, 71, who said she sees firsthand problems of marijuana excess near her ranch in the county’s wooded Brown’s Valley community.
Black said a nearby property was purchased by a buyer “who came in from San Jose, drilled a well and immediately started growing marijuana.”
“Here in this dry environment, there were guys building campfires and melting the butane off for honey oil,” said Black, who was county sheriff from 1999 to 2006. “It makes me shudder.”
Black joined the current sheriff, Steven Durfor, and District Attorney Patrick McGrath in signing the ballot argument against Measure A. They said the initiative “severely restricts the rights of local residents to file complaints” over problems associated with marijuana, while making “massive grows on foothill parcels ... practically immune from enforcement.”
Local marijuana ballot initiatives
▪ Measure Y – Requiring a two-thirds vote for passage, the measure would impose a 5 percent gross receipts tax on marijuana cultivation and manufacturing businesses approved to operate in the city. It would direct revenues to a dedicated fund for children and youth services.
▪ Measure C – Although Davis has no dispensaries or plans to allow them, the initiative would allow the city to impose a tax of up to 10 percent on future businesses selling recreational marijuana. The measure would take effect if California voters approve marijuana for recreational use and wouldn’t apply to medical marijuana.
▪ Measure A – The initiative would allow outdoor medical marijuana cultivation, including six-plant gardens on parcels less than an acre and up to 60 plants on parcels 20 acres or more. It would require marijuana growers to register with the county and pay fees based on the number of plants per property.
▪ Measure B – The initiative would authorize one medical marijuana dispensary in the county for every 20,000 residents. With the county’s current population, four dispensaries would be allowed.
▪ Measure W – Placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors, the measure would prohibit all outdoor marijuana cultivation and commercial marijuana production in the county. It would allow residents to grow 12 plants indoors in permanent structures with building permits from the county.