Sacramento County supervisors retain water-waste fines on pot growth

Sacramento County supervisors Tuesday broadened a recent ordinance declaring outdoor marijuana cultivation a waste of water, maintaining higher fines despite objections from medical marijuana advocates.

After banning all outdoor marijuana growth in the unincorporated parts of the county last year, the Board of Supervisors two weeks ago categorized that activity as water waste, subjecting it to additional fines of up to $500 per day.

Dozens of medical marijuana advocates appeared at board chambers Tuesday to protest the July 14 ordinance. They said they were unfairly being singled out and that board members should focus water-related enforcement on large water users.

Supervisors on Tuesday altered the original ordinance by defining any illegal water-reliant activity as a form of water waste rather than marijuana cultivation alone, according to Ted Wolter, chief of staff for Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan.

The ordinance will have the same functional outcome in terms of marijuana cultivation, said Wolter, but will expand the range of county water waste violations subject to citation and fines.

“If, because of the continuing drought, the board found it appropriate to prohibit the installation of new turf, for example, the ordinance would consider that water waste as well,” he said.

While Sacramento County residents can cultivate nine plants indoors for medical use, exceeding that limit is also subject to penalties for illegal growing and water waste.

Local medical marijuana advocacy groups remain dissatisfied. The amendment does not help medical marijuana patients and merely plays with language, said Ron Mullins, general manager of Sacramento’s Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.

“It actually makes it more difficult for everybody because they can pass any law against county code and then automatically a fine structure can come into play,” said Mullins.

Many activists fear for those who depend upon small-scale cannabis growing for their medical needs.

“Often they can’t afford either dispensary prices or face problems growing indoors under the restrictive ordinance Sacramento County has,” said Deputy Director of California NORML Ellen Komp.

NORML activists at Tuesday’s hearing called it a “politicization of the drought” and a diversion from what they considered bigger water waste issues – fracking, local Nestlé water bottling, as well as regional rice and almond farming. A protest rally and march directed by local marijuana advocacy groups followed the hearing in downtown Sacramento.

Komp says Sacramento County’s water waste ordinance is the first of its kind in California, and she said that MacGlashan has an agenda against marijuana.

MacGlashan said she originally proposed the amendment on the basis of a statistic published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife that states a single marijuana plant averages 6 gallons of water used daily.

Fish and Wildlife senior environmental scientist Scott Bauer said in a phone interview that a single plant can use between 5 and 10 gallons per day during its growing period, numbers based on search warrant findings and a document published by marijuana advocacy group Emerald Growers Association in 2010.

“These are the numbers the Department of Fish and Wildlife uses and will continue to use,” Bauer said.

Komp called these statistics a “worst case scenario” and an overexaggeration.