Pubdate: Thu, 18 Feb 2016
Source: Appeal-Democrat (Marysville, CA)
Copyright: 2016 Appeal-Democrat
Author: Andrew Creasey


A proposed urgency ordinance that would significantly tighten 
restrictions on growing medical marijuana in Sutter County failed to 
pass a Board of Supervisors vote amid concerns it lacked any methods 
of enforcement.

Before a standing-room-only audience Tuesday night, the board heard 
31 comments from a public that was split almost exactly down the 
middle in support or opposition to the ordinance, which would have 
banned all outdoor cultivation of the plant and restricted indoor 
gardens to 14 plants.

In the end, a motion by Supervisor Barbara LeVake seconded by 
Supervisor Larry Munger, both of whom were responsible for bringing 
the ordinance before the board, failed to garner the required 
four-fifths vote. Supervisors Jim Whiteaker, Ron Sullenger and Dan 
Flores voted against the ordinance.

The board agreed that the issue of large outdoor marijuana grows, 
which the proposed ordinance was intended to eliminate, is a major 
problem in the county. The board agreed to form an ad hoc committee, 
with Whiteaker and Flores as members, to bring a new version of the 
ordinance before the board by March 22 that will outline enforcement 
measures, fines for violating the ordinance and fees for marijuana cultivation.

The purpose of the new ordinance was to rein in large, outdoor grows 
allowable because the previous medical marijuana ordinance, passed in 
2013, did not put a plant limit on areas in the county where 
marijuana cultivation was allowed, LeVake said.

"That is the concern - these large, out-of-control grows of 600 
plants or more that are being allowed as a result of loopholes in the 
existing ordinance," LeVake said.

While the board agreed a new ordinance was needed to restrict large 
outdoor grows, Whiteaker and Flores both said they weren't 
comfortable voting for the proposed ordinance because it did not 
include how the ordinance would be enforced or lay out fines and 
penalties for violating the ordinance.

"Right now in Sutter County, we have zero code enforcement officers," 
Whiteaker said. "You're asking me to approve an ordinance I know 
we're not going to be able to enforce."

Whiteaker's concerns were echoed by Flores and Sullenger, as well as 
District Attorney Amanda Hopper.

"Sutter County does not have the ability to enforce this ordinance at 
this point," Hopper said. "While I completely agree with and echo the 
needs (of the ordinance), I would like to see it be an ordinance that 
accomplishes something. Right now, I would be shocked if a case ever 
makes it to my office."

Part of the concern with the existing ordinance is it requires large 
amounts of time for deputies from the Sheriff's Department to do 
compliance checks on outdoor marijuana grows, said Sheriff J. Paul Parker.

"We did 549 compliance checks over the past two years," Parker said. 
"It eats a horrible amount of time from front line sheriff law 
enforcement, that's my problem with it." Hopper agreed, saying 
enforcement of the ordinance was the real issue.

"All of these checks these deputies have to do - they're ridiculously 
short-staffed," Hopper said. "I'd rather have them out there 
responding to violent crimes."

The task of revising the ordinance now falls to Whiteaker and Flores, 
who will present the board with a rough draft of an updated ordinance 
by March 8 and a final version for board action on March 22, Whiteaker said.

The new ordinance will include enforcement penalties and fines, as 
well as registration fees for indoor gardens. All told, the fines and 
fees the county collects should be enough to hire a code enforcement 
officer, Whiteaker said.

"I guarantee that when this ordinance is completed, it will be a 
standard all rural counties will adopt," Whiteaker said.

LeVake maintained she wanted to see the ordinance pass on Tuesday.

"I agree with my colleagues that we need to have clear penalties for 
noncompliance and we need resources for enforcement," LeVake wrote in 
an email to her constituents Wednesday. "However, I think that 
passing the strict ordinance last night would have sent a message 
that Sutter County does not welcome commercial outdoor growing and 
the nuisances associated with it."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom