El Dorado supervisors stick with existing cannabis ordinance

Dawn Hodson
Mountain Democrat

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — No new action was taken regarding the ordinance governing the personal use of cannabis at Tuesday’s El Dorado County Board of Supervisor’s meeting.

Instead the board decided not to form a Cannabis Personal Use Ad Hoc Committee and will review the ordinance again next January once the county has more data.

At present the ordinance allows adults 21 and older to have up to six cannabis plants for medicinal or recreational use per residence. Other regulations in the ordinance govern such things as screening, setbacks, odor control, security, residency requirements and property owner authorization.

Because some users already planted their cannabis before final passage of the ordinance last year, county staff reported there was only limited enforcement of the ordinance through Dec. 1, 2020, as long as the cannabis was exclusively for personal medicinal use and was planted prior to May 6, 2020.

Pointing out the benefits of the ordinance, deputy county counsel Breann Moebius noted it allows outdoor cultivation in all zones except multifamily residential. It recognizes the legitimate use of cannabis by those with medical needs but imposes a six-plant limit regardless of use. The ordinance provides clarity to the public and enforcement officials as to what is legal, which allows for expedited enforcement. It also aligns the county ordinance with the six-plant limit in Proposition 64 and the state’s position that a commercial license is required to grow more than six plants even for medicinal use. The ordinance will allow law enforcement officials to easily determine whether a personal cultivation grow is compliant.

The existing ordinance also avoids use of square footage limits for outdoor cultivation and makes it easier to determine if a grow is in compliance with those limits. The ordinance also regulates regardless if the use of cannabis is for recreational or medical purposes and doesn’t require the county to implement an expensive “waiver” program tied to registration and fees. Last, Moebius said the ordinance provides an avenue to more effectively and safely combat the black market, which is necessary for the success of a legal market.

Moebius noted El Dorado County’s climate is conducive to cultivating large marijuana plants. There are some 750 different types of marijuana strains available and each strain varies in size, levels of THC, levels of CBD, drought tolerance, etc. The average marijuana plant cultivated outdoors can yield conservatively 2-3 pounds of processed marijuana, the attorney said, and indoor marijuana plants have lower yields. A heavy marijuana user would smoke about 1.2 pounds of marijuana a year.

At Tuesday’s meeting the board heard complaints from those not satisfied with the ordinance.

Rod Miller, executive director of the El Dorado County Growers Alliance, provided a long list of complaints both verbally and in writing. He said the idea that all the grows in the county are run by organized crime was inaccurate and hyperbolic and that most of the grows raided were either legal before 2019 under the existing Medical Marijuana Program Act (Senate Bill 420) or were trying to comply with the rules in effect until December 2020.

He also accused sheriff’s deputies of pointing AK-47s at families during searches of illegal grows, of ransacking people’s homes, destroying their greenhouses and taking cash and not returning it to its rightful owner. He repeatedly accused the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office of deliberately not giving anyone a license and of refusing to follow the law regarding commercial cannabis growing. He also questioned if there is sufficient oversight of the sheriff’s department.

In response Sheriff John D’Agostini said he agreed with staff that the county should hold off on forming a Cannabis Personal Use Ad Hoc Committee until after more data is collected as he accused Miller of being emotional rather than factual with the issue.

To make his point, D’Agostini said last season the sheriff’s deputies served 263 search warrants for illegal grows. Those were approved by the District Attorney’s Office and signed by a judge. In over 75% of those cases, D’Agostini said the grows were tied to large-scale drug trafficking operations with ties to Mexico. The remaining ones, noted D’Agostini, were large, domestic illegal commercial grows. In only two cases where grows were eradicated were the owners trying to be in compliance with the ordinance and in those cases, no charges were filed, he added, saying on average the grows had 737 live plants.

D’Agostini said other allegations by Miller were equally wrong as the department does not use AK47s because, in his words, “They are junk.” He said deputies do frequently carry rifles when serving criminal search warrants because it’s not unusual for them to find weapons. In the case of the cannabis warrants, deputies found 241 firearms, many of which were illegal assault weapons.

The sheriff said searches did not involve ransacking property and that his office is not holding up background checks for licensing. As far as the allegations regarding cash assets being seized during searches, he said once a case is settled the cash goes to the DA’s Office or is returned to the owner. D’Agostini also noted there are multiple ways the public has oversight of his department, including submitting complaints, grand jury investigations or investigation by the state attorney general.

In the discussion that followed Supervisors John Hidahl and Sue Novasel suggested bringing the issue back to the board in January for a review once they have more data and to discuss whether or not there is a need for an ad hoc committee. A motion to that effect was passed unanimously by the board.

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