Pubdate: Tue, 10 Jul 2012
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2012 The Press Democrat
Author: Glenda Anderson


Following a contentious daylong hearing punctuated by frequent cheers
and jeers from a crowd of 400, Lake County supervisors adopted a
medical marijuana ordinance aimed at placating both pot advocates and

"We're really trying to balance this thing out," Lake County
Supervisor Jeff Smith said just before the 4-1 vote. Supervisor Rob
Brown, who wanted more restrictive measures, voted no.

The issue has deeply divided the Lake County community, with growers
in one of California's poorest counties pushing for broader rights to
cultivate marijuana while opponents strive to sustain their rural
lifestyle and traditional agriculture.

The ordinance is an interim measure while the county hammers out
long-term rules. Growers responded in force to a proposal for
restrictive pot limits, developed in response to a spike in marijuana
cultivation and complaints from non-growing residents about the stench
from the plants, scary guard dogs and armed growers.

The outpouring forced supervisors to schedule the hearing at the
Lakeport fairgrounds.

The growers criticized the initial proposal as draconian,
discriminatory, illegal and a threat to the health and welfare of
medicinal marijuana patients.

"You're persecuting me. Please stop," said Ken Estes, a medical
marijuana patient who is confined to a wheelchair.

During the lengthy hearing, the pot growers often were unruly,
cheering and applauding those with whom they agreed and booing and
jeering those with whom they disagreed.

Supervisor Rob Brown repeatedly reprimanded the hecklers.

"Keep your mouths shut," he said, warning that he would halt the
meeting if they did not comply.

Ultimately, the board in a compromise move loosened the restrictions.
As adopted, the temporary ordinance allows up to six mature plants on
parcels smaller than a half acre. The amount increases with the
acreage and is capped at 48 plants for cooperatives with access to
more than 40 acres.

It also includes buffers between pot plants and neighboring homes and
fines and potential criminal proceedings for scofflaws.

This is the county's second try at a local marijuana ordinance. The
county adopted a ban on outdoor cultivation on small, residential lots
last year but revoked the measure after marijuana growers collected
enough signatures for a ballot measure.

The Lake County Green Farmers, a pot-growing group, then drafted their
own ordinance and took it to voters. The ballot measure, which allowed
up to 84 plants, was soundly defeated by voters in June, receiving
just 34 percent of the vote.

County residents favoring the ordinance said they're being adversely
affected by out-of-control pot cultivation. There's been a tenfold
increase in pot production in the Middletown area, said Supervisor Jim

Ripening pot emits an unbearable, skunk-like stench, attracts crime
and increases traffic in residential neighborhoods, said proponents of
the ordinance.

"We can't even open our windows at harvest time," said Sherry Fitch,
of Upper Lake.

Others complained about "weapon-wielding" pot growers who are quick to
threaten anyone who gets near their gardens.

It's clear that much of the marijuana is being grown for profit, not
medicine, they said.

"This is all about money. Don't let anyone fool you," said Tony Arnds,
a Lake County pastor.

It's legal for marijuana growers to recoup their time and costs, said
Dan Rush, a medical marijuana caregiver and director of the Medical
Cannabis and Hemp Division of the United Food & Commercial Workers
International Union. He described the growers as hard-working farmers
and said the county should be glad they're contributing to the economy.

Marijuana advocates would like to see an ordinance that is somewhere
between their failed ballot measure and the board's ordinance. But,
for now, they're placated by the temporary compromise.

"Overall, I'm happy with the result," said Daniel McLean, of Hidden
Valley Lake.
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