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Supervisors alter recreational pot ordinance, prepare to discuss nonsanctuary status

There were plenty of open seats and no marathon public comment sessions at the Butte County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday (Feb. 27), as the panel coasted through a relatively drama-free agenda.

In fact, the meeting’s sole contentious discussion was on an item removed from the consent agenda—a list of actions the board has previously discussed and decided on that typically is approved en mass with a single whack of Board Chair Bill Connelly’s gavel. That item was the second reading of a new county ordinance meant to regulate the cultivation of recreational marijuana for personal use as allowed by Proposition 64, passed by California voters last November.

County staff referred to the proposed ordinance as 34C after the chapter it will take in Butte County Code once approved. It is based on existing medical marijuana cultivation rules—Chapter 34A, aka Measure A. The new ordinance was introduced last month and would have been enacted if read Tuesday, but the supervisors pulled the item due to concerns that differences in setback requirements on parcels of land over 10 acres (100 feet for medical and 150 feet for recreational marijuana) would cause confusion for growers and the county’s code enforcement officers.

Another difference between the ordinances is that all recreational grows on parcels under 5 acres must be done indoors, with outdoor grows allowed on larger properties; the medical ordinance allows for outdoor cultivation on smaller properties. Supervisor Larry Wahl argued that outdoor grows should not be allowed at all for recreational pot.

Supervisor Steve Lambert agreed with Wahl, saying that the smell of cannabis is one of the primary complaints about pot in his district, which covers the southwestern quarter of the county. Jessica MacKenzie, head of the Inland Cannabis Farmers’ Association, was one of only two public speakers on the topic—a rare occurrence, as pot talks regularly fill the chamber to standing room capacity, and likely because the public assumed the item would be passed along with the rest of the consent agenda.

“The issues that always arrive [about cannabis] are public safety, environmental responsibility and equitable application of the law,” MacKenzie said, explaining that indoor grows can cause fires, require large amounts of electricity and are cost-prohibitive for many.

Wahl motioned to change the proposed ordinance to allow only indoor grows for recreational marijuana, and Lambert seconded. The motion was defeated by a 3-to-2 vote. Supervisor Doug Teeter then made a motion to change the setback requirements of the recreational ordinance to match those of the medical ordinance, which was seconded by Supervisor Maureen Kirk and passed with a 3-to-2 vote (with Wahl and Lambert dissenting). The new rules are scheduled to take effect later this month.

In other news, the supervisors agreed to agendize a discussion that likely will ensure more fervent discourse at an upcoming meeting. Wahl said he’d spoken with supervisors from Tehama County regarding that board’s decision to “take the lead” in declaring it is not a sanctuary county for undocumented immigrants. Wahl reported that the Tehama officials told him their decision was based partly on concerns about President Donald Trump’s threats to cut federal funds to cities and counties that declare sanctuary status. Siskiyou County supervisors have also made a nonsanctuary declaration.

“There needs to be a clear definition of what we have to do in accordance with state law and what we can and have to do in accordance with federal law, and therein lies the rub,” Wahl said. “The two overlap and conflict, and I would like to see us get clarification as a county on that.”

Paul Hahn, the county’s chief administrative officer, noted the matter is further complicated by the fact that Senate Bill 54—currently working its way through the state Legislature—would declare California a sanctuary state. Connelly said he thought that was a bad idea, and that the sanctuary conversation should also include the board possibly drafting a letter to the governor voicing opposition to the bill.

“OK, Larry, you got us into a conflict,” Connelly joked after Hahn confirmed the nonsanctuary discussion would be scheduled as soon as possible.