Back on the pot

Board of Supervisors hopes latest medi-pot ordinance holds up

Third time’s a charm, as they say.On Tuesday (Feb. 12), the Butte County Board of Supervisors passed its third attempt at an ordinance to regulate the cultivation of medical marijuana in the county.

After the prior ordinances were scrapped—the first by voter referendum and the second after District Attorney Mike Ramsey declared it unconstitutional—the supervisors charged an ad-hoc committee, including medi-pot proponents and opponents, to come up with a workable set of guidelines.

The latest ordinance is the product of two months’ worth of often contentious meetings of the committee of 15, composed of four representatives from each side of the issue, along with county staff and elected officials (see “A grand compromise,” Newslines, Jan. 24).

Butte County Chief Administrative Officer Paul Hahn, who formed the committee, introduced the new ordinance to the board: “This is a compromise,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you that any one of the 15 people in this working group wouldn’t say there’s something they’d like to change in this ordinance.”

Hahn outlined the process by which the committee worked and detailed how the result differs from past attempts. Some major points he noted were that it is a civil rather than a criminal ordinance, growers will not be required to register with the county, and it is complaint-driven—meaning compliance officers will look into grows only if a complaint is made by a nearby neighbor. He also noted it is the first to include environmental guidelines and a one-year residency stipulation for growers and members of collectives.

“It’s not a perfect ordinance, but it’s a start,” Hahn said. “There will be unforeseen consequences of this ordinance that we don’t know.

“We’re in uncharted territory; we’re in uncharted legal water that everyone’s grappling with. This is a best attempt, a good-faith attempt, by a group of people to try to solve as many problems as we could.”

Before opening the issue to public comment, Bill Connelly, the board chairman, demanded comments be made in a “dignified manner” devoid of “cheering, jeering, clapping or derogatory comments.” This was mostly adhered to but, as with all public meetings about pot, there were occasional outbursts.

Committee members were invited to speak first. Attorney Robert MacKenzie and medi-pot advocate Matt Larkins, who represented growers’ rights, spoke positively of the process and its product, as did committee member Scott Armstrong, who represented the other side and called the new guidelines “workable.”

However, Patricia Vance, who also represented the opposing camp, expressed her disappointment in the results, particularly in high plant counts she said will invite out-of-area growers and make Butte County the “pot grow capital of California.”

“The ordinance at this point, passed as is, does nothing to help our community,” she said.

One woman who agreed with Vance said, “This draft proposal is not a compromise; it is a smackdown. It is perfectly clear in this draft who got their own way. The pot growers are doing cartwheels up and down Highway 70 and Highway 99.”

The most serious challenge to the new draft came from activist Kelly Meagher, who didn’t criticize its content but said the board would break California law if it adopted any ordinance before June 5, a year from Measure A’s defeat by referendum.

“We voted this thing down with 55 percent of the vote,” Meagher said. “It boggles my mind that the county doesn’t want to protect the rights of the citizens to petition their government for a redress of grievances. That’s what a referendum is. Its one of the most fundamental rights we have as citizens of the state of California.

“I have no particular opinion at this point on this ordinance … but I’m telling you, you can’t act until June 5th.”

Anticipating Meagher’s comments from letters he’s written to this newspaper and the Chico Enterprise-Record, Hahn addressed the issue earlier, saying he and County Counsel Bruce Alpert believed the ordinance differed enough to pass legal muster.

In the end, the ordinance passed 4-1 with some minor changes, such as expanding the smallest parcel on which marijuana can be grown outdoors from four-tenths to half an acre; increasing the range in which people are eligible to file complaints from 1,000 to 1,500 feet, and requiring renters to submit a notarized letter from their landlords stating the latter are aware of the growing operation. The supervisors also agreed to revisit it in one year.

Larry Wahl was the sole supervisor in opposition. He cited a litany of negative impacts he attributed to marijuana use and cultivation and stated it defies federal law.

The board voted to waive the first required reading of the ordinance. It will get a final reading at the board’s next meeting, Feb. 26, and take effect 30 days later.