Supervisors Affirm Medical Marijuana Strategy – July 26, 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Daniel Mintz

Eye Correspondent

HUMBOLDT – Following a series of bureaucratic struggles, the county’s effort to regulate medical marijuana will retain an initial focus on residential grows and dispensaries, and will look to Mendocino County as a model for a second phase on outdoor grows.

Dealing with regulatory issues was challenging for the county’s Planning Commission, which was stumped on many of them when it reviewed a draft medical marijuana ordinance last May. One commissioner recommended dropping the effort, saying that controlling medical use is beyond the Commission’s authority.

But the draft ordinance’s focus on residential grows and regulation of dispensaries was reaffirmed at the July 12 Board of Supervisors meeting. Supervisors asked the Commission to handle those aspects first, then review a separate set of rules for outdoor growing and dispensary supply sources.

A “work plan” for the second phase will be outlined to supervisors in early September and sometime before that, Mendocino County Supervisor John McCowen will give a presentation on his county’s outdoor cultivation ordinance.

The Mendocino ordinance is controversial for its involvement of police who inspect and tag growers’ plants through a fee-based program. But Board Chairman Mark Lovelace, who comprises the board’s Medical Marijuana Subcommittee with Supervisor Jimmy Smith, said Mendocino’s law might only be partially borrowed from.

Supervisors dealt with quandaries similar to the ones that bogged down the Planning Commission. There was debate about whether controls on outdoor growing should be delayed, as Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said more people are growing outdoors in residential areas to compensate for price declines by avoiding electric bills.

He described problems with the strong odor of marijuana in rural residential areas of his district, like Willow Creek. “I don’t know how we can tell those people, “Well sorry, we’re just doing indoor,’” said Sundberg. “They can’t even go outside – it’s not fair and there’s got to be something we can do to tackle that part of the problem when it’s that blatant.”

“I think that’s why the Planning Commission had such a difficult time with this issue, because it’s so hard to find where those lines can be drawn,” said Community Development Services Director Kirk Girard. He told supervisors it would take “a long time to do this correctly” but problems with indoor residential grows and dispensary permitting demand swift response.

During a public comment session, members of growers’ advocacy groups recommended dealing with both indoor and outdoor residential grows during the first phase. The idea of establishing outdoor grow setbacks was mentioned by Sundberg but Supervisor Clif Clendenen warned that it could be too prohibitive for patients who own smaller lots.

As the discussion drifted deeper into bureaucratic intricacies, Supervisor Smith said the County needs to buckle down to basics and get an ordinance on the books.

“The fear remains for me that we’ve got some ordinances in place in Eureka and Arcata, for example, and we have nothing in the county,” he said. The discrepancies between the sometimes bordering areas “really presents law enforcement with a lot of problems, Smith continued.

“And we now have a backlog of dispensaries looking for conditional use permits and we have no guidance,” he said.

As it became clearer that most supervisors see regulation of indoor grows and dispensaries as a priority, Girard recommended that they “draw the line at that point” and deal with “the whole supply chain” of dispensaries and “a Mendocino-type ordinance” on outdoor growing in a second phase.

Supervisors unanimously agreed to pursue that strategy.