Medi-pot cultivation ordinance passes

Growers will have 30 days before implementation

After three very long public hearings on the topic of medical-marijuana cultivation, members of the Butte County Board of Supervisors seemed tired. With the exception of Maureen Kirk, who represents part of Chico, none of the supervisors had much to say at their meeting Tuesday afternoon (May 24).

And when Kirk made a motion to tweak a few parts of the ordinance, which has already been altered twice, her suggestions fell on deaf ears.

“I’ve really agonized about this a lot,” she said. “I’m concerned about implementation—if this passes as is, we need to delay implementation to next year.”

That, too, went ignored.

Ultimately, the ordinance passed as it had been presented to the board. The gist is this: In unincorporated Butte County, on parcels of land less than half an acre in size, no growing is allowed; from .5 to 1.5 acres, six plants are allowed; 1.5-20 acres, 12 plants; 20-80 acres, 24 plants; 80-160 acres, 36 plants; and 160-plus acres, 99 plants. Anyone growing more than six plants will be required to obtain a permit, costing $285, from the county.

The weather was gorgeous for Tuesday’s final meeting on the subject, held at the Butte County Fairgrounds in Gridley. More than 500 chairs had been set up inside a covered area, and sheriff’s deputies directed traffic and stood watch over the crowd of 350-400. But this meeting was calmer than the last one, in Chico’s Elks Lodge. It was clear both the time and place had kept some people away.

Those who did turn out spoke passionately both for and against the growing of marijuana. Some argued that pot is a gateway drug and allowing cultivation makes it easier for kids to obtain it. Others questioned the reasoning behind banning growing on small lots altogether. Yet others continued to threaten lawsuits and recalls.

“This ordinance doesn’t regulate me; it denies me,” said one man who lives on less than half an acre, followed by a round of applause.

“I live on 1/32 of an acre. I grow one plant for my own use and for my wife’s use,” said another. “Now you’re telling me I can’t do that? You’re an ass monkey!”

For the most part, however, aside from a few angry or animated speakers, the crowd was respectful. The boos and interruptions of the previous meetings were kept to a minimum, and no one had to be ejected (though a few were warned).

While most of the speakers appeared to be growers, there were still a few on the other side of the fence, so to speak, who discussed fears about neighbors with gardens and the accessibility of their plants to criminals and children in particular.

“The neighbors don’t come to talk because they’re afraid of what might happen to them,” one woman told the board.

“Marijuana is a drug. It can be easily abused,” said Capt. Darren Stratton from Chico’s Salvation Army, for which he runs the rehab facility. “It’s a gateway drug, and it’s the easiest to get on the streets.”

Among the suggestions Kirk made at the end of the meeting was to allow growing on small lots—those less than half an acre—inside a greenhouse, as is allowed in the city of Biggs. This was an option several speakers offered as a compromise to finding another place to grow.

“A lot of the people here seem willing to compromise, and that’s a positive sign,” said Roger Frith, mayor of Biggs, who explained that his city’s ordinance, which allows outdoor grows only inside greenhouse-like structures, has been working quite well.

Ultimately, Kirk voted to approve the ordinance, minus any amendments. Supervisor Larry Wahl was the lone dissenter, once again voting against the ordinance based on his belief that it goes against federal law.

“This law doesn’t solve the problem we have here in Butte County,” he said. (This came after County Counsel Bruce Alpert, in his short introduction, clearly explained that “This is not preempted by federal law. Some people think this type of regulation is not legal—this would not be before the board if it were not legal.”)

Supervisor Bill Connelly showed outward annoyance at his fellow supervisor’s stance. “I cannot believe you’re going to hide behind a law we do not enforce,” he told Wahl.

The ordinance will go into effect 30 days after passage, on June 23 to be specific. Even those who have already planted their gardens will be expected to comply. The board explained it would take another look at the ordinance at the beginning of 2012 and consider changes at that time. Opponents of the ordinance are working on a petition to put the matter on the November ballot. Look for “Save Butte Growers Rights” on Facebook for more info.