Supervisors punt ordinance to people

Medi-pot-cultivation ordinance to be added to June ballot

It’s official: the Butte County supervisors have decided to leave the fate of the county’s medical-marijuana-cultivation ordinance to their constituents.

They had two options before them: Either repeal the ordinance they passed two months ago, or put it to a vote. A successful petition drive resulted in a referendum on the ordinance, which, among other things, outlined the number of marijuana plants people can grow based on the size of the land parcel they live on.

“I urge you to rescind the ordinance as flat-out bad legislation,” said Weston Mickey, a member of Citizens for Compassionate Use (CCU), the group behind the referendum. He explained to the supervisors, before their decision, that the ordinance as written effectively forces people to go to the black market. With a moratorium on dispensaries and the inability for people to grow on parcels of half an acre or smaller, where are people to go?

Rob MacKenzie, a Chico attorney working for CCU, echoed Mickey’s concerns and advocated for a repeal so the supervisors could rethink the ordinance. He’s written his own proposed legislation, which he submitted to the board last month.

CCU members were chief among the anti-ordinance speakers at Tuesday’s meeting, which was by far the least-attended of any of the supervisors’ meetings related to medical marijuana. A quick scan revealed at least 17 uniformed officers lining the back wall of the chambers or standing outside either entrance, one of them with a K-9 unit in tow.

“We’ve got more police than people in the audience,” Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey was overheard saying as he walked into the meeting. Comments by audience members proved he wasn’t the only one who noticed, either.

Several people came to speak in favor of the ordinance, saying they needed something in place to ensure their pot-growing neighbors follow the law and don’t create a nuisance for them.

Ultimately, the board seemed unsure what to do. Board Chairman Steve Lambert seconded Supervisor Maureen Kirk’s motion to repeal the ordinance and start over, taking MacKenzie’s proposal into consideration. That, at least, would give them a leg up on next year’s growing season, Lambert pointed out.

“I don’t think our ordinance is legally defensible as it is,” Kirk said, adding that putting it on the ballot was a waste of money—about $50,000, as it turns out (though that’s much less than the $450,000 it would cost for a special election). If it gets voted down, then they’ll be in the same position they’re in today, only a year later. And if it passes, they could face legal challenges.

Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi said he felt an obligation to put it to a vote, since “that’s what they asked for,” referring to CCU. Supervisor Bill Connelly spoke about many of his constituents who come to him crying about not being able to enjoy their homes because of nearby marijuana gardens. He referenced MacKenzie’s proposal, but said it still didn’t satisfy him because it allows people to grow on small lots (he was corrected a few minutes later by Kirk, who clarified that MacKenzie’s ordinance allows only indoor gardens on lots up to a half-acre).

After just a half hour of discussion, the board decided, 3-2, with Lambert and Kirk dissenting, to place the ordinance on the June ballot.