Facing furious protests by marijuana advocates, Nevada County supervisors on Tuesday approved a restrictive plan to allow limited outdoor marijuana growing in a Sierra Nevada county long known for its cannabis culture.
In June, voters in the county of 100,000 residents roundly rejected a sweeping ban imposed by supervisors on outdoor marijuana farms and commercial cultivation. Measure W, which would have reinforced an ordinance passed by the board in January, went down by a 59-to-41 percent margin.
After its defeat, cannabis advocates said they had expected the board to approve more liberal growing policies, including allowing regulated cannabis farms under new California medical marijuana rules signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year.
On Tuesday, advocates said the board’s new plan to ban marijuana growing in residential areas and allow no more than 25 plants on large agricultural properties would deprive legitimate medical marijuana users of relief and do nothing to address concerns about rogue pot farms fouling the environment.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
Local cannabis grower Song Kowbell said voters on Measure W had delivered a resounding answer to a question posed by supervisors on whether the county should ban both outdoor and commercial marijuana growing. Kowbell said the new rules, including property-line setbacks for pot gardens, would prevent her from growing on her sprawling rural landscape.
“You asked and we said no!” she said about the board’s response to Measure W vote. “I have a 17-acre parcel, which I can no longer grow my medicine on. I have Lyme disease and M.S., and I’m mad as hell.”
Meanwhile, several dozen residents turned out for the board’s Tuesday vote to urge supervisors to stand firm against unbridled marijuana growing that they charged was imperiling the county’s security.
Anthony Halby, a board member for the Nevada County County Law Enforcement and Fire Protection Council, blamed the failure of Measure W on spending by cannabis interests. He said that signaled the county was corrupted by pot and that supervisors needed to take another stand to rein in a burgeoning marijuana culture.
“We moved here 30 years ago for the quality of life,” Halby said. “I worry about these grows and all the things that drug money can buy.”
Nevada County Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Miller said the ordinance approved Tuesday is temporary, a way to buy additional time for supervisors to draft permanent rules to address concerns of both cultivators and residents unhappy with marijuana proliferation in the county.
“It’s not perfect,” Miller said. “There is not going to be consensus. There is going to be a lot of angst. But when we get into the weeds of a permanent ordinance, then we’ll know what to do or not do. We’re trying to lift the ban and still respond to the community as a whole.”
The new ordinance maintains a ban on indoor and outdoor cannabis growing on all residential properties under 5 acres and imposes requirements restricting the location and scale of gardens on larger properties. However, the supervisors’ 4-1 vote will allow people in residential areas to maintain current indoor gardens of up to 12 plants for the next 90 days.
The ordinance allows residents on properties of 20 acres or more to grow 25 outdoor marijuana plants with up to 1,000 square feet of plant canopy. Those with 10-acre to 20-acre parcels can maintain pot farms of 16 outdoor plants of no more than 800 square feet.
The county’s plan, which maintains the supervisors’ ban on commercial cultivation, allows people in residential areas to grow 12 indoor plants on parcels between 5 and 10 acres. It would permit 12 indoor plants or six outdoor 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.
Marijuana advocates said $100 to $500 daily fines, set to go into effect next year, on violators of the cultivation rules are unfairly punitive. They said the rules – including 200-foot property-line setback requirements for marijuana gardens – will effectively ban growing on some larger properties.
Patricia Smith, a former Hollywood costume designer who founded a local marijuana collective called Grass Roots Solutions, said the county policy was an affront to residents who rejected Measure W. Smith said the restrictions contained “poison pills” that would “take out 75 percent of every small mom-and-pop grower in this county.
“You’re banning the most needy patients from being able to grow medicine,” Smith said. “You’re banning collectives from being able to grow for them.”
She was echoed by Forrest Hurd, the father of a 9-year-old boy, Silas Hurd, who uses cannabis treatments to ward off severe seizures from a rare, intractable form of childhood epilepsy. Growers for Grass Roots Solutions are producing medicinal tinctures for the child.
Hurd accused the board of pushing policies that “sacrifice the lives of the disabled in this county for an ideological war on recreational cannabis.”
Linda Erdmann of the Nevada County Republican Women’s Federation said marijuana growing in the county is a purely for-profit business whose impacts are bringing “a gradual breakdown in law and order. … Nevada County should not become one of the major marijuana growing areas in California.”
But Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, warned that the county would wind up with unwanted criminal marijuana growers and traffickers if supervisors didn’t impose thoughtful regulations to distinguish lawful cultivators from rogue elements.
“The fact of the matter is that commercial growing is already here,” Allen told the board. “We want to regulate it. And we want to separate regulated grows from criminal grows. … Regressive policies will not solve problems.”
One local grower couldn’t take the supervisors’ proposed action. Shortly before the board vote, Andrew Goodwin stood up out of turn and rushed toward the dais where the board members were seated, stopping about 10 feet in front of them.
Goodwin, who said he grows marijuana for a personal medical condition, said he sank his money into a greenhouse only to give up in confusion and frustration over the county’s rules for such structures.
“I have spent so much money in this county,” said Goodwin, his voice cracking with emotion. “I’ve given up. I’m now growing tomatoes.”