On to the voters

Protested pot ordinances bound for the ballot

The Butte County Board of Supervisors struggled to maintain control during the public comment period at its regular meeting Tuesday (March 8), directing speakers to stick to the topic of two specific medical marijuana cultivation ordinances and making repeated pleas for civility from rambunctious audience members on both sides of the issue.

The meeting teetered on the edge of chaos as soon as the discussion started and reached its peak about halfway through roughly two hours of public commentary, as speaker JR Thiara used his turn at the podium to sermonize for medical marijuana long past his allotted two minutes.

“And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the Earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding …’” Thiara said, making it through several verses of Genesis as a medi-pot opponent in the audience started shouting, “[The Bible] says don’t get drunk, too … it says don’t get high!”

Proponents shared stories of how medical marijuana saved their lives, while anti-pot speakers described how their neighborhoods were ruined by the smell of pot. Many expressed their support or disdain for Measure A, the medical marijuana cultivation ordinance adopted by Butte County voters in November 2014. But as board Chairman Bill Connelly said several times, the only issues up for discussion were two ordinances adopted by the board in January and protested by petition in February.

Ordinance No. 4106 changed the county’s Right to Farm ordinance to specify that medical marijuana cultivation is not an agricultural operation, and therefore not subject to the same rules that govern other farming ventures. New state regulations classify medical marijuana as an agricultural commodity, and the ordinance was aimed at reducing future legal challenges if existing ag regulations do not line up with Measure A rules. The second ordinance, No. 4107, amended Measure A to streamline the enforcement process, doing away with citations to base fines solely on 72-hour notices given to those believed to be out of compliance with cultivation rules.

Both ordinances were passed at the supervisors’ meeting Jan. 12 and adopted Jan. 26. They would have taken effect Feb. 25, but a group called the Inland Cannabis Farmers’ Association spearheaded an effort to collect more than 12,000 signatures protesting their adoption. Butte County Clerk-Recorder Candace Grubbs certified the petitions were valid at Tuesday’s meeting.

The supervisors had two options Tuesday—repeal the ordinances outright or put them to the voters. They further had to decide whether to add the ordinances to the next scheduled election (the June 7 primary) or hold a special election. They eventually voted 4-1 (with Supervisor Doug Teeter dissenting) to let voters decide about the Right to Farm amendment, and unanimously to let the public decide on the Measure A amendment. Both ordinances will be on the primary ballot.

Paul Hahn, chief administrative officer for the county, said that since the primary ballot is already filled with local issues including an anti-fracking ordinance, the cost of adding the two measures would be minor, amounting to a few thousand dollars at most.

Jessica MacKenzie, director of the Inland Cannabis Farmers’ Association, said she was mostly happy with the outcome: “I think there was movement made on both sides and we had some good dialogue,” she said, acknowledging things got rowdy but noting her group helped keep the conversation mostly cordial.

“I’m disappointed they didn’t repeal 4106, because it’s completely unnecessary … and that they didn’t look at the totality of enforcement when discussing 4107, because complaints have been filed and abuses have been noted,” she said. “But June is just around the corner.”