Sierra County Board of Supervisors medical cannabis ordinance
Public Input from DeVita
The Sierra County Board of Supervisors is considering a medical marijuana ordinance in the county. The Natural Resources, Planning, and Building Committee met and discussed a template for an ordinance. In the last five years in Prospect editorials I’ve encouraged the county to enact medical marijuana ordinances to benefit local med-can patients and protect their rights.
Throughout California, the combination of a gray market for marijuana, crashing house prices, and increased personal financial woes have encouraged more and more people to grow medical marijuana.
On the one hand, this can be seen as very good; sick people who might otherwise have found themselves on the street have been able to stay in their homes by growing a little extra for the dispensaries. The cities have the markets for medical cannabis, and the highest profits are to be made from boutique med-can indoor grows right in the city. Bud is sold at top dollar, and the stems and inferior plant parts go to make THC distillates such as “dab” or “shatter” or similar products. Even so, there is enough of a market for outdoor organic or local indoor organic so that small entrepreneurs can make a living.
On the other hand, the proximity to the city makes most rural counties susceptible to “green rush” exploitation, where old houses are destroyed from mold and structural damage due to “get rich quick” pot growers, and vacant land is used without owner permission. Drifters move in to small blocks of rental houses. Watersheds are damaged; neighborhoods hang heavy with the smell of Purple Haze and Skunk Kush. We’ll keep those downsides in mind for later discussion, because some ordinance enforcement is complaint driven, and because worst-case-scenario pot grows are often used as evidence for stricter enforcement.
It isn’t surprising that a county would want to prevent the damage to homes, land and neighborhoods that the green rush in medical marijuana has produced. Further, there is nearly always an uninformed portion of the population who is against medical cannabis on “moral” grounds; the result of the racism/xenophobia which has been with cannabis prohibition from its inception, and of a lifetime of “just say no” propaganda from our mad uncle Sam. It isn’t surprising that many people can’t think straight about the issue. So, many California counties have tried to get a handle on med-can, both growing and distribution.
Some are simply restrictive: the Tehama ordinance has been challenged in court; it prevailed, at least the portion which was challenged. This might be one reason for a committee to recommend it. The Tehama ordinance withstood one challenge (and an appeal) on one segment; this has encouraged pro-access people to find new ways to challenge the ordinances. Far from being “challenge-proof”, the Tehama model might actually draw the attention of people who want to challenge the law in a small county.
This approach to regulating medical cannabis, the “restriction” approach of reducing the size and number of small or even medium (up to 250 mature female plants) medical marijuana grows, is easily demonstrated as counter-productive. However, it’s not hard to see how the committee might arrive at its conclusion. The safest thing for a bureaucrat or politician when the lion of public opinion stalks is to do is nothing; when that isn’t possible, do what others in your herd are doing. It is the logic of the deer and cow, and it works well enough.
There have been several counties who have tried hard to both mediate the number of large medical marijuana grows, and allow a brisk business and so easy and affordable access to medical marijuana. Larger cites and some counties have done as I suggested Sierra County do, and regulated and taxed the sales at dispensaries. Some have been wholly or partly successful in controlling and regulating med-can dispensaries, but actually regulating growing is difficult, for a simple reason: the herb doesn’t know about law, and will grow anywhere there is sunlight, soil and water.
But some county programs, like Mendocino’s zip tag program, have brought grief from the Feds for being too official in their tracking of med-can grows. When county “sherff” says she or he needs to be a jerk about medical marijuana because it’s still illegal at the federal level, there is a tiny seed of truth to that. The feds do occasionally pounce on county officials. But, they do so at a far smaller rate than the rate the lion takes the deer or cow; mostly that objection is simply justification. In Mendo, the feds pounced, or at least lunged, and as a result, the county has been forced to turn over records from its now defunct medical marijuana program. The program sought to regulate medical marijuana as a commodity; it was voluntary and many saw it as a good first step to moving medical herb from black market to legitimate market while still preserving the advantage of the non-corporate grower. So far, the feds have just cost everyone money.
What kind of medical marijuana ordinance should we seek? It’s not so hard to figure one out.
We start with the realization that, regardless isolated good news, most rural people are in an economic funk that they will never recover from, particularly older people, since they often can’t compete for work with younger people. It’s the economy, stupid.
We then recognize that in some rural counties up to 40% of working class and underclass people are earning money from marijuana under some aspect of Prop 215. The phenomenon is very wide spread, which means there is actual competition between growing areas.
We next consider the wonderful success of the war on drugs, and in particular, the war on pot-heads. It has filled prisons and made the careers of cops, prosecutors, and drug lords.
Then we take a hard look at the reasons for enacting an ordinance. Rather than focus on thick headed pilgrims and chauvinistic loyalty to a failed war, we’ll look at the manifest reasons: green rush.
It is absolutely terrible how some people grow ganja. They show up to rent a house with a nice little bunch of kids, rent the house, and a loser moves in to watch pot grow while the house wiring sizzles and smokes under the load of grow lights. They cut holes in floors and walls, steal power, snort crank, and then leave owing rent and utility bills. They buy nice family houses and set up grows and then after a few years just stop making payments and the bank gets a grow shack back. They dam up streams, put grow chemicals right in the water. They either don’t protect their grows, and so encourage pirates and violence, or they do protect their grows and injuries result*. They cut trees and steal water and electricity. They leave pot where kids can grab a branch, and encourage rootless, criminal people into the area. The poster child for “why we need a med-can ordinance” is the huge grow, that disturbs the neighborhood, damages property, and most of all is operated by someone from out of the area, preferably someone from a third world nation.
But, wait! A lot of that stuff is already illegal! If the laws we have now don’t stop those things, how is messing with a busted up old hippie miles away going to change things?
The truth is, a “medical marijuana ordinance” isn’t needed to solve any of those problems, we just need to use the tools already available. The truth is that living near a marijuana grow is not more dangerous than living near a liquor store, which people do all the time. There are school bus stops near places that sell liquor; do kids there have a higher incidence of alcoholism as a result?
Does your neighbor have a pot grow and your kid came home stinking of weed? Do these things: 1. File a nuisance complaint as you would for any neighborhood problem; 2. Lecture your kid to stay in their own yard and give the “just say no” lecture in case a social worker comes by; 3. Lock up your prescription meds and alcohol, almost all of which are far worse than fresh green ganja.
Is the abandoned house down the way supporting a grow and stealing power? Trespass and power theft. Big outdoor grow on someone else’s land? Trespass and resource damage.
Troubled by the smell of growing marijuana? Sierra County has an ordinance allowing agriculture; why don’t you join up with the people who complained about the Loyalton Cogen plant emissions and call Air Quality to see if you can screw up yet another source of income for the county.
It’s possible, after the deer and the cow, the Board should do nothing first. Legalization is right around the corner, as anyone who looks up from the sod can see. It might be said SC needs no ordinance, or at least we need no ordinance more than we need a bad ordinance.
Coming up with a restrictive ordinance which requires registration or permits will drive ma and pa med-can growers, many of whom thoroughly and with good reason mistrust government, out of the legal business and back into crime. An ordinance limiting grows on property will increase clandestine grows, the ones the cops already can’t find. Allowing people to grow responsibly will allow sick people to have their medicine at an affordable price, and from a local source. Having no medical marijuana ordinance at all on grows under 150 plants ensures local people stay in the business, which keeps prices low, which means the transient growers we all hate won’t make as much money.
The idea that, to have a thriving and organized local grow and distribution network you need government intervention, is simply not supported in the data. Oddly to me, many people who make this claim that medical marijuana isn’t regulated and so must be bad also complain about government regulation on other businesses. People are so funny.
A good local med-can ordinance would be crafted not by cops, but by business people. Sierra County is bleeding out; here is an opportunity to seize a market. The economic development committee should be making ordinance recommendations to provide for branding of Sierra County med-can in preparation for the market when cannabis is legalized. The county organs needed to oversee a commercial med-can industry are already in place.
Large grows are problematic. If people want to run the risk of a large, unfenced outdoor grow on their own property, they should probably be able to, so long as other regulations, such as environmental regulations, are observed. If people own a house and want to destroy it growing pot, should there be a law against it, and who would benefit from such a law? However, there is a solution, at least in part, to this problem.
If Sierra med-can was branded, a coop could be formed. Large growers of ganja, like large growers of anything agricultural, will follow the market advantage. With a sound and functional coop, people with medical cannabis prescriptions or their caregivers could form patient groups and fund larger med-can grows, for example, in the business park in Loyalton.
While the Sierra County Board of Supervisors considers an ordinance, they should think more of control through assisting locals in the med-can and soon legal recreational market. To be clear, and as I’ve said for years now, there is a shrinking window of opportunity. Communities on the coast are already geared up with local branding for cannabis. The real production of marijuana will, of course, be the central valley, where most cheap market pot will be grown. But there will be niche markets, as there are for organic cheeses and grass fed beef.
Meanwhile, community support for the supervisors would give them the justification for doing something different from the other deer or cows. It would quiet the few holier-than-thou complainers who get a nice buzz off mean-mouthing pot at poorly attended meetings. It would show that Sierra County (and Loyalton, the place most likely to benefit from a county brand) is looking forward, not back.
The last thing we need, in my view, are new ways to trouble the common person in the county, or new ways to keep cops busy with known growers instead of scanning Google Earth for new grows (though, for a cop it is more efficient to look for marijuana where you already know it is). A county reliant on agriculture should not have to worry about the smell of cow poop or purple haze.
Since 215 was passed, cannabis prices have steadily dropped. Prohibition is what keeps prices high, and it isn’t marijuana that causes crime, it’s money. Eventually, recreational cannabis will be legalized and the profit will sink to the Central Valley, and the green rush, like all our rushes, will move on. Until then, it isn’t fracking we’re talking about (the SC BOS would be powerless to stop fracking in the county), it’s growing a plant. I’m pretty sure we can cope with growing a plant.
The Natural Resources, Planning, and Building Committee will meet again; the public will again be invited. If only anti-medical marijuana people are present, that is who the committee will hear. The Clerk of the Board will know when the next committee meeting is; it hasn’t been set. After that, the full Board will receive the committee’s recommendation, and probably your input. It’s time for people who use medical cannabis to come forward to explain to the board how it helps with arthritis pain (as studies show) and it helps with peripheral nerve pain like diabetics experience (as studies funded by the state show) and it helps people with debilitating injuries to sleep (as studies show) and reduces spasticity (as studies…) and improves mood.
Here comes the future! Good luck!
Counties and cities are handling the situation in different ways.
*I realize this is a “no-win” situation for the growers, but that’s how this game is played; no one said you had to be fair when you deal with pot heads.