Pubdate: Sat, 04 Apr 2015
Source: Appeal-Democrat (Marysville, CA)
Copyright: 2015 Appeal-Democrat
Author: Eric Vodden


A Yuba County Superior Court judge has denied a bid by medical 
marijuana growers to restore their ability to seek a voter referendum 
on the county's new cultivation ordinance.

Judge Benjamin Wirtschafter on Friday ruled against Yuba Patients 
Coalition and six growers in their motion for a temporary restraining 
order against Yuba County. The ruling left intact an urgency 
designation with the ordinance that eliminated a signature-gathering 
period for a referendum.

Attorney Joe Elford, representing the growers, said after the hearing 
he will file an emergency writ with the 3rd District Court of Appeals 
to overturn the ruling. Ordinance opponents would need a favorable 
outcome before next Thursday to have time to submit referendum 
petitions to county election officials. A preliminary injunction to 
halt enforcement of the new ordinance until the outcome of a separate 
lawsuit filed last week is set for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Even if a voter referendum is precluded, opponents could seek a voter 
initiative, a more complex process that involves placing a new 
ordinance before voters rather than overturning one already approved. 
Opponents have said they have already gathered enough referendum 
signatures to submit to election officials, but they would 
essentially have to start over to seek an initiative.

Yuba County supervisors last month approved the new ordinance after a 
series of workshops and hearings attracted vocal opponents and supporters.

The previous ordinance allowed 18 plants on an acre or less and as 
many as 99 on 20 acres or more. The new one allows no outdoor plants, 
12 inside a qualified accessory structure and none in residences.

At issue during Friday's hearing, attended by about 70 people, was 
the urgency designation approved by the Board of Supervisors last 
month in connection with the new ordinance. That designation meant 
the ordinance took effect immediately rather than in 30 days, thus 
eliminating the 30-day period for gathering signatures before it took effect.

Elford argued the findings that made it an urgency ordinance were 
essentially the same as for the previous ordinance adopted in 2012 
without the urgency designation. He said the determination "removes 
the people from the ordinance.

"The county did this purposefully to avoid the referendum," Elford said.

However, Deputy County Counsel John VacEk said some of the findings 
"are essentially new." He said the fact "some board members" who said 
after the approval they were unaware it would preclude a referendum 
shows it was not their intent to stop it.

"The urgency ordinance was approved for entirely legitimate reasons," 
VacEk said.

Wirtschafter noted that one of the findings given for the urgency 
designation is the need to conserve water during the ongoing drought. 
The urgency ordinance notes marijuana plantings would have been 
likely to occur before a non-urgency ordinance would take effect.

Previous court rulings have found counties and cities "have broad 
discretion in the cultivation of marijuana," Wirtschafter noted.

Friday's hearing followed a separate lawsuit filed last week by four 
growers, also represented by Elford, claiming the new ordinance is 
unconstitutional. It also seeks a permanent injunction preventing 
enforcement of the new law.

"This is just the first chapter in a long story," Elford said of 
Friday's ruling. "We didn't even get into our substantive things. 
This is just the referendum."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom