Pubdate: Wed, 11 Jan 2012
Source: Union, The (Grass Valley, CA)
Copyright: 2012 The Union
Author: Liz Kellar


Working Group Seeks Compromise on Marijuana Ordinance

Medical marijuana advocates and proponents of a proposal to regulate
marijuana cultivation sat down recently to try to hammer out some
compromises that - ideally - will be incorporated in a draft ordinance
that could be presented to the Nevada County Board of Supervisors as
early as March.

While there were some contentious moments at the group's first meeting
in early January, many stayed behind after the two-hour session to
talk. And that open dialogue left many participants feeling
"heartened," in the words of GrassRootsSolutions founder Patricia Smith.

But Smith - and other participants - stressed that the ball remains in
the county's court and they are taking a wait-and-see approach.

"Nothing at all was decided upon, not even a comma," Smith said. "I
can't really comment until I see what they come back with."

The proposed ordinance drew a standing-room-only audience when the
concept was introduced at the Board of Supervisors in November. The
sample ordinance was brought to the board by Nevada County Sheriff
Keith Royal, who emphasized the wording - which could limit the number
of plants depending on zoning, as well as grows within 1,000 feet of
areas where children gather - was only a template.

Royal was given the OK to move forward with a draft, and put together
the "working group" of representatives from both sides of the issue,
as well as county counsel Alison Barratt-Green and District Attorney
Cliff Newell.

Medical marijuana advocates, including Plan It Solar owner Martin
Webb, brought a revised ordinance to the table, and hope their
suggestions will be heeded.

"I'm hopeful," Webb said, adding that he pushed to get some activists
to be open to working with law enforcement.

"There was a sense this was being steered by prohibitionists" and just
a "charade," Webb acknowledged. "It was reassuring to have people
willing to listen, being open to changing the ordinance to be more
realistic and more sustainable."

In particular, wording in the ordinance that references federal law is
of deep concern to medical marijuana advocates, they said.

"If the federal language stays in, all this work (to compromise) is
for nothing," Smith said. "They could use that to outlaw cultivation

Other items in the sample ordinance that drew a lot of discussion
included setbacks, restrictions on mature or immature plants, and
registration with the county.

"My biggest concern right now are the setbacks," Smith said. "I tried
to present diagrams showing how very little ... would qualify. It's
unacceptable for medical marijuana patients, especially low-income

Dr. Stephen Banister, of Highland Springs Wellness, decried the need
to have an ordinance at all.

"It feels like overkill to do it this way," he said. "I feel like
there's a real strong movement to severely restrict medical marijuana,
but (an ordinance) seems too severe a solution. ... I am acknowledging
the problems. This is just taking it too far, too fast."

"I think it would good to put the problem in perspective," Banister
said. "How many legal grows are creating a problem? I think it's a
fairly small percentage."

Instead of an ordinance, Banister would like to see the county try a
proactive, voluntary compliance approach.

While medical marijuana advocates said they are committed to
participating in the process, they are working on a parallel track -
just in case.

"There's no formal coalition as of yet," Smith said. "We are planning
to have a town hall meeting ... At that time, we will announce the
formation of a chapter of Americans for Safe Access."

The fluid group has been continuing to work on a revised ordinance
that will address homeowners complaints and still give people
reasonable access, Smith said.

The concerns - and the hopes - of the medical marijuana advocates were
echoed by ordinance proponents as well.

"We have no way to gauge what county counsel and sheriff are going to
do," said Don Bessee of Nevada County Against Residential Cannabis
Cultivation. "All we can do is advocate for our position."

Bessee said his group is not advocating for a ban, saying, "We're
looking at getting a handle on it in residential areas ... There is a
place for that. This can be structured so legitimate users have
access, and the neighborhoods aren't getting chewed up by 99-plant

The hope is that the county will "take some of this to heart and get
something that won't create a repeal," Bessee said.

The working group is valuable because it is forcing the sides to have
a dialogue and understand each other's positions, he added - "so
extremists aren't driving the argument."

Lee French from the Alta Sierra Property Owners Association was not as
hopeful, saying he didn't think the final ordinance would change much
from the sample presented at the November meeting.

"I don't think anyone will be satisfied with what comes out," he said.
"I understand (Royal) is in a tight spot, and needs to get something
out, guidelines of some kind. But it's not going to please everybody."

French said he would like to see marijuana completely prohibited from
residential areas.

"What I'd like to see is no-tolerance, but that's not necessarily what
my board wants to see," he said. "I've asked for input and I'm in the
process of getting that now."

The working group will meet at least one more time, Royal

The sheriff will then sit down with county counsel, the district
attorney and possibly the county development agency to hammer out a
draft that will be presented to the Board of Supervisors.

"We're still a ways away," Royal said. "I would like to have it in
place before next growing season. We'll see what challenges we come

"We want something that's palatable to both sides of this issue," he
said. "What do we feel is reasonable that we can enforce, that we can
live with and that is balanced in meeting patients' needs and those in
the community who are victims of a nuisance issue. I think the
dialogue has been positive - everybody's trying to find common ground." 
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