Proposed Grass Valley marijuana ordinance stirs fears
October 25, 2011
GRASS VALLEY, Nev. – As the federal government cracks down on commercial marijuana dispensaries and raids local growers, a proposed county ordinance to regulate cultivation is stirring up controversy.
The proposed countywide ordinance to restrict or ban marijuana growing in residential neighborhoods was tentatively set to come before the Board of Supervisors Tuesday as a discussion item. But that has been pushed back to November at the earliest, said county counsel Alison Barratt-Green.
“This would be a draft for discussion,” Barratt-Green said. “We would ask for direction as to whether the board would want to proceed (with an ordinance).”
Barratt-Green emphasized that the draft would be a discussion item only and would be subject to comments both from the public and the board.
“I would be happy to sit down with any community group,” she said.
What exactly the proposed ordinance would entail is still very much up in the air, Barratt-Green said.
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But she said a ban on all outdoor grows is not part of the proposed language, although some fear the ordinance would ban grows in “residential-agricultural” neighborhoods.
“Zoning is one of the issues we’re discussing, how that might play into it,” Barratt-Green said, adding that Nevada County is looking at cultivation restrictions recently imposed by other counties such as Mendocino, Tehama, Lake and Butte.
In Tehama County, for example, an ordinance requires a 1,000-foot distance between school bus stops and marijuana gardens, restricts the number of plants based on parcel size and the 1,000-foot buffer, requires registration with the county Health Services Agency and a 6-foot fence around outdoor gardens.
Local cannabis activist Patricia Smith hopes local government leaders will take what she calls a “reasonable approach to regulation,” and suggests the county’s entire economy is being put at risk.
“Cannabis is our state’s No. 1 cash crop,” Smith wrote in a recent submission to The Union. “Nevada County is second only to the Emerald Triangle in statewide cannabis production. Accurate figures on the amount of money marijuana brings to our region are scarce, but it’s estimated our share of the pie exceeds $1 billion annually.”
Smith added that medical marijuana sales tax currently adds more than $100 million to our state’s general fund, a big chunk of which goes to highways, roads, and bridges, public education, and aid to local governments.
“If we changed our policy to treat cannabis like the wine industry, the tax revenues to our state could grow to $1.3 billion and Nevada County could receive several million dollars annually,” she said. “San Jose has collected over $300,000 a month since imposing a 7 percent (local) sales tax on cannabis.”
Smith, who runs nonprofit patient advocacy group GrassRootsSolutions, had hoped to work to overturn the county ban on medical marijuana dispensaries. In the wake of the recent federal crackdown, Smith has adopted a wait-and-see tactic on the dispensary front. But she strenuously opposes any move by Nevada County to ban grows.
“People who demonize marijuana don’t stop to realize how vital the cannabis market is to Nevada County,” she said. “The money from cultivation is pumped back into our local economy, virtually propping up every business in town. If you want to see a deserted Main Street, ban our No. 1 income producer.”
Smith says she does not advocate that people break the law, but that she hopes the county can craft a law that “will work for everybody.”
Her fear, she said, is that increasing restriction will simply push more growers to “the illegal side.”
“Where does it stop?” Smith asked. “I feel government over-reach is at a critical mass.”
GrassRootsSolutions works with small growers who abide by a set of standards that include limiting the number of plants based on the parcel size, Smith said. She supports limiting the number of plants to six in residential neighborhoods, and concealing gardens from sight with fencing or greenhouses.
Smith would support a program similar to one run in Mendocino County, she said, where growers register and receive zip-ties with serial numbers to attach to their marijuana plants.
“That would free up law enforcement to go after people who refuse to comply,” she said. “I’m praying (the supervisors) work with us. I get flak from both sides, but I just care about providing safe medicine for patients.”