California Weed

Protests roil over Nevada County’s proposed pot farm rules

Marijuana grower Basil McMahon with his crop in Grass Valley, Calif., on Nov. 12, 2015.
Marijuana grower Basil McMahon with his crop in Grass Valley, Calif., on Nov. 12, 2015. TNS

In a Sierra Nevada foothills region long known for marijuana growing, Nevada County supervisors in January enacted a sweeping ban on outdoor and commercial medical marijuana cultivation. But that only triggered a voter revolt.

Now, after residents voted by a 59 to 41 percent margin to reject Measure W, a June 8 initiative to reinforce the cultivation ban, the county’s pot politics are roiling anew.

Pro-marijuana advocates are expected to pack Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting to protest a new plan by supervisors to allow restricted outdoor marijuana farming, mostly on large parcels.

The proposed interim county ordinance would maintain a ban on indoor and outdoor cannabis growing on all residential properties under 5 acres and impose requirements restricting the location and scale of gardens on larger properties.

“It’s awful what they’re doing,” said Patricia Smith, founder of a Nevada County medical marijuana growers’ collective called Grass Roots Solutions. “They’re acting as if they won the election as opposed to losing it. This plan is exactly what they want – not what we want.”

Under the proposed interim plan, to be replaced later by a permanent ordinance if adopted by supervisors, residents on properties of 20 acres or more can grow 25 outdoor marijuana plants with up to 1,000 square feet of plant canopy. Those with 10- to 20-acre parcels can maintain pot farms of 16 outdoor plants or no more than 800 square feet.

The county’s plan, which would maintain the supervisors’ ban on commercial cultivation, would allow people in residential areas to grow 12 indoor plants only on parcels between 5 and 10 acres. It would permit 12 indoor plants on properties between 2 and 5 acres that lie in agricultural zones. Twelve indoor or outdoor plants are allowed on agricultural properties of 5 acres or more.

Supervisor Nate Beason said the plan, expected to be voted on Tuesday, is a reasonable compromise – one that upholds supervisors’ pledge to rewrite the ordinance to permit outdoor marijuana gardens if Measure W lost.

“We did exactly what we said we would do,” said Beason, one of two supervisors who met with cannabis advocates to draft a new plan after the measure’s defeat.

Supervisors pushed forward with a vote on the proposal after the county and marijuana advocates failed to reach a consensus. Beason charged that marijuana growers want to turn the county into a commercial production center under state rules permitting for-profit pot farms. The state rules allow local governments to ban such businesses.

“I think the growers see the defeat of Measure W as carte blanche,” Beason said, adding: “The end game for the marijuana folks is commercialization in Nevada County. ... That’s what this is all about.”

Smith said proposed $100 to $500 daily fines on violators of the cultivation rules are drawing the ire of cannabis growers and activists. She said the rules – including 200-foot property line setback requirements for marijuana gardens – will effectively ban growing on some larger properties.

“I live on 10 acres, a parcel 660 feet long and 400 feet wide. It has 200-foot setbacks from both property lines. They meet in the middle,” Smith said. “So where am I going to grow?”

A proposal advanced by cannabis advocates called for up to 12 outdoor plants on residents’ parcels of 2 acres or less if neighbors gave their approval for the nearby gardens. Their plan would allow a maximum of 50 plants and 5,000 square feet of cultivation on properties of 20 acres or more, and 25 plants or 2,500 square feet on properties 5 acres or more.

Protests against the interim ordinance are being led by Forrest Hurd, father of a 9-year-old boy, Silas, who has been using cannabis tinctures from Nevada County growers to treat intractable epilepsy and reduce the frequency of debilitating seizures.

Hurd, who plans to lead a noon rally before the 1:30 p.m. board session, said the new rules will severely restrict the availability of medicinal remedies for children such as his son.

“Families like mine will continue to have to break the law to save our kids,” he said. “(This is) unacceptable.”

Silas Hurd suffers from a severe seizure disorder that has stunted his development and put him at risk of early death. His parents have taken a lead in fighting a Nevada County ballot initiative they say would hurt efforts to craft special marijua

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