Pubdate: Mon, 09 May 2016
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Peter Hecht


Nevada and Yuba Counties Are Roiling With Political Arguments Over 
Pot Cultivation

At Issue: Do Efforts to Ban Outdoor Farms Unfairly Hurt Legitimate 
Medical Pot Growers and Patients?

As California eyes legalizing recreational marijuana use, local 
jurisdictions are sparring over how to regulate pot production and 
sales, with controversial cultivation measures in Nevada and Yuba 
counties topping the list of five initiatives set for a June 7 vote.

The neighboring Sierra foothill counties are roiling with political 
arguments over marijuana growing, with communities divided over 
whether efforts to ban outdoor pot farms unfairly affect legitimate 
medical marijuana producers and patients.

In Nevada County, Measure W seeks to reinforce a January vote by the 
Board of Supervisors that banned outdoor marijuana growing in the 
county, a renowned cannabis haven where pot gardens first bloomed 
with the arrival of hippies and homesteaders in the 1960s.

In Yuba County, Measure A seeks to overturn an outdoor growing ban 
imposed by supervisors last year by permitting residents to grow six 
outdoor plants on properties of less than an acre and up to 60 plants 
on parcels 20 acres or larger.

In Sacramento, city voters will consider a 5 percent tax on 
commercial marijuana cultivation under an initiative that would 
direct revenues to programs for at-risk youths. A Davis ballot 
measure would allow a tax of up to 10 percent on recreational 
marijuana sales, even though the city has no plans to authorize pot 
stores should recreational use be approved in California.

By far, the most politically charged battles center on the outdoor 
cultivation measures in Nevada and Yuba counties, where supervisors 
and many residents have complained of negative impacts from marijuana 
growers drawn to the region in recent years.

Nevada County in 2012 approved rules allowing outdoor marijuana 
cultivation ranging from 75-square-foot gardens on small properties 
to 1,000-square-foot grows on larger parcels. Yuba County that same 
year passed a similar program that allowed a maximum of 99 plants on 
the largest properties.

Officials said marijuana cultivation surged and many growers exceeded 
the limits, while also stealing water, dumping sediment into creeks 
and leaving toxic waste - including butane cans from honey oil labs 
that use the volatile solvent to process pot concentrates.

"People just didn't care anymore and they started growing as much as 
they wanted to," said Nevada County Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan 
Miller, who in January led a 4-1 vote to ban outdoor marijuana 
gardens and all commercial production in the county of 100,000 
residents. "The county was trying to be lenient and understanding. 
That leniency was taken advantage of."

While banning outdoor marijuana, the county ordinance allowed 
residents to grow up to 12 marijuana plants indoors with lighting 
restrictions. Now, if passed by voters, Measure W would effectively 
prohibit supervisors from reworking the new rules unless voters 
approve the changes in another election.

The cultivation fight has taken on an emotional context as opposition 
to Measure W has been led by a father of an 8-year-old child 
suffering from debilitating seizures and developmental challenges.

The child, Silas Hurd, has a form of potentially life-threatening 
epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. His father, Forrest Hurd, 
said Silas has made marked improvements after taking 
difficult-to-obtain cannabis tinctures crafted for the child by small 
medical marijuana cultivators in Nevada County who grow plants outdoors.

Hurd, 36, portrays the ban as a threat to his son's well-being and 
takes public offense over pro-Measure W campaign signs that bear the 
slogan, "It's not about medicine."

"It would make me feel good if they were actually eradicating these 
bad actors" responsible for marijuana problems in the county, Hurd 
said. "But they're going after patients. They're going after families."

In Yuba County, Terry Comer, who used to grow up to 50 marijuana 
plants before the outdoor ban there, said officials in both places 
overreacted by depriving lawful medical medical marijuana growers of 
their livelihoods while failing to target vast pot farms of rogue 
cultivators and criminal marijuana traffickers.

"There was a mad scramble and the counties said, 'Let's ban it and 
then work it out,' " Comer said. "The momentum swung to the people 
who were against marijuana anyway. And now it's just a blood bath. 
Here in Yuba and neighboring counties, it's really, really intense."

Comer, an advocate for the medical marijuana group Committee for Safe 
Public Access to Regulated Cannabis, is also a protagonist in another 
closely watched Yuba County marijuana initiative fight.

He is a backer of Measure B, which, if passed, would allow four 
medical marijuana dispensaries in the county of 73,000 residents. The 
measure would permit one dispensary for each 20,000 residents (the 
population number is rounded up).

The effort to overturn the county's outdoor cultivation ban by 
passing Measure A is being led by a group called Citizens For 
Solvency. Its founder, Angelique Perez, operates a Marysville 
hydroponics store called Two Chix.

Perez said Measure A, which would impose county fees of $40 per plant 
on outdoor gardens, could generate $1 million in annual revenues for 
local government. As it stands now, she said, the county is getting nothing.

The ballot argument signed by Perez hails Measure A as "common sense 
regulation" that will benefit "all Yuba County residents through 
proper taxation and fees" and "economic enhancement." The measure 
also would limit nuisance complaints on marijuana gardens to people 
who live or work within 600 feet of the pot farms.

The economic argument doesn't impress retired former sheriff Virginia 
Black, 71, who said she sees firsthand problems of marijuana excess 
near her ranch in the county's wooded Brown's Valley community.

Black said a nearby property was purchased by a buyer "who came in 
from San Jose, drilled a well and immediately started growing marijuana."

"Here in this dry environment, there were guys building campfires and 
melting the butane off for honey oil," said Black, who was county 
sheriff from 1999 to 2006. "It makes me shudder."

Black joined the current sheriff, Steven Durfor, and District 
Attorney Patrick McGrath in signing the ballot argument against 
Measure A. They said the initiative "severely restricts the rights of 
local residents to file complaints" over problems associated with 
marijuana, while making "massive grows on foothill parcels ... 
practically immune from enforcement."


Local marijuana ballot initiatives


Measure Y  Requiring a two-thirds vote for passage, the measure would 
impose a 5 percent gross receipts tax on marijuana cultivation and 
manufacturing businesses approved to operate in the city. It would 
direct revenues to a dedicated fund for children and youth services.


Measure C  Although Davis has no dispensaries or plans to allow them, 
the initiative would allow the city to impose a tax of up to 10 
percent on future businesses selling recreational marijuana. The 
measure would take effect if California voters approve marijuana for 
recreational use and wouldn't apply to medical marijuana.

Yuba County

Measure A  The initiative would allow outdoor medical marijuana 
cultivation, including six-plant gardens on parcels less than an acre 
and up to 60 plants on parcels 20 acres or more. It would require 
marijuana growers to register with the county and pay fees based on 
the number of plants per property.

Measure B  The initiative would authorize one medical marijuana 
dispensary in the county for every 20,000 residents. With the 
county's current population, four dispensaries would be allowed.

Nevada County

Measure W  Placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors, the 
measure would prohibit all outdoor marijuana cultivation and 
commercial marijuana production in the county. It would allow 
residents to grow 12 plants indoors in permanent structures with 
building permits from the county.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom