Familiar tunes

Old arguments arise as county supervisors send medi-pot initiative to voters

In June, local drug enforcement agents busted this illegal cannabis operation in Bangor.

In June, local drug enforcement agents busted this illegal cannabis operation in Bangor.

Photo courtesy of the Butte County Sheriff’s Office

Cannabis may be noted for its calming effects, but, as a matter of discussion, it sure can stress people out.

As a case in point, emotions ran high on Tuesday (July 26) during the latest Butte County Board of Supervisors public hearing on medical marijuana. Residents filled the chambers in Oroville and split into two familiar, opposing camps—those who’d like to see cannabis normalized, legalized and regulated, and those who want marijuana farming and associated nuisances eradicated from the foothills.

Consider Bonnie Marciniak, who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, firmly in camp two.

“People are sick and tired of everything the pot industry stands for,” she said. “The smell, the poisonous pesticides, the crime, the contamination of our soil and our groundwater—the list of negatives goes on and on. It is not a harmless plant.”

The matter at hand was an initiative called the Medical Cannabis Cultivation and Commerce measure, aka MC3. It would replace Measure A, the current law regulating the cultivation of medical marijuana in Butte County, which passed with about 60 percent of the vote in 2014 and was amended by Measure H this past June.

Pot advocates consider Measure A prohibitively strict, as it limits garden size to 150 square feet. MC3 would loosen rules on garden size and establish guidelines for the cultivation, manufacturing, testing, distribution, transportation and storage of medical marijuana.

In early June, the Inland Cannabis Farmers’ Association—the group behind MC3—submitted nearly 12,000 signatures of registered county voters to the Clerk-Recorder’s Office. On Tuesday, the supervisors were tasked with certifying the signatures as valid and deciding whether to adopt the initiative as an ordinance or put it to a countywide vote.

A couple of big-picture factors colored the discussion. For one, there’s a real chance that, in November, California voters will legalize the recreational use of cannabis under Proposition 64. Also, the supervisors themselves are burnt out on the subject; they’ve overseen dozens of similar hearings in recent years.

All of that isn’t lost on Jessica MacKenzie, ICFA president.

“We’re tired of it, too,” she said. “We’re tired of struggling for equilibrium in an ever-changing landscape where the pendulum swings from one extreme to the other. What we’re really advocating for is changing the mindset away from eradication to regulation. … History tells us, in no uncertain terms, that eradication and prohibition do not work.”

MC3, if passed, would move in the other direction. It would allow for personal gardens up to 500 square feet, lift the county’s prohibition on cannabis dispensaries, and establish a framework for commercial activity as outlined in the state’s new Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act. For instance, it would set up a business licensing program for growers and allow property owners to dedicate up to 25 percent of their parcel to commercial operations (not to supercede allowances outlined in MMRSA).

County Counsel Bruce Alpert offered the supervisors his take on the initiative: “I don’t mean to sound flippant, but this is a pretty large wish-list for people who not only want to see personal use expand, but want commercial marijuana to become a part of the fabric of our community.”

The supervisors could have directed county staff to study the full implications for 30 days, but Paul Hahn, the county’s chief administrative officer, said that that would push the initiative off the ballot until June 2018.

Ultimately, District 5 Supervisor Doug Teeter made a motion to certify the signatures and place the initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot as written. His motion passed 4-1, with Chairman Bill Connelly dissenting. Prior to casting his nay vote, Connelly expressed misgivings.

“There’s just so much we don’t know,” he said.