“We are not here to sell something, we are here to learn,” said Jeff Engel, county supervisor and Cannabis Task Force member, as he asked the audience to comment on the draft cannabis ordinance Aug. 18 in Quincy.
The cannabis ordinance that the task force has been introducing around the county is a work in progress. The task force will be rewriting the ordinance based upon the public input it has received and there will be many other opportunities to tweak the ordinance before the county supervisors vote on it.
No one at the public meeting could say how large an economic, social and environment impact cannabis cultivation, production and sales might have on the county. The only thing that seemed certain was that commercial cannabis would continue in Plumas County, whether it is legal and regulated or continues as illegal and unregulated.
One of the biggest issues at the meeting seems to involve whether cultivation and/or sales of commercial cannabis should be allowed in residential areas.
As currently proposed, people wishing to grow cannabis on land zoned “residential” will need to get a county “special use permit” that requires communication with their neighbors and approval by the county planning director.
On land zoned “suburban,” prospective growers will only be required to get a “zoning clearance certificate.” The latter does not require public consultation or approval by the planning director.
However, the county will tour the property to check for violations to county codes that would need to be fixed before a certificate could be issued.
Some citizens said that 7-foot fences around residential grows would not be enough to hide taller cannabis plants. Others recommended that 2-3 feet of wooden lattice could be added to obscure the plants.
Some citizens wanted to be sure that they didn’t have to smell cannabis or have children encounter cannabis.
Ralph Koehne, a vocal opponent of the current draft, said he would be able to support commercial growing of cannabis on agriculturally zoned land, as well as on limited amounts on lands zoned industrial, commercial and on isolated properties that don’t affect neighborhoods.
He would like to see commercial cultivation limited to land of 20 acres or more with a mandatory dwelling.Others, however, don’t want to see current local cultivators forced out of the market because they are growing on less than 20 acres of land.
Koehne does not want to see cannabis operations in areas zoned residential or within suburban areas on less than 20 acres of land.
Kevin Danaher also said that he would propose not allowing cultivation in residential or suburban areas and limiting growing area to the sizes already in use in the county, for the foreseeable future.
Some residents were concerned that crime would increase if there were an increase in cannabis production in the county.
In particular, some predicted the theft of cannabis plants and thus the need for greater resources for the sheriff.
Scott Corey suggested that a portion of any tax on cannabis production in Plumas County should go to hiring private reserve sheriff’s officers to patrol cannabis operations.
Proponents of commercial cannabis production argue that commercial cannabis production has existed and will continue to exist in Plumas County. They say the only thing they are trying to do is regulate cannabis production so that the sheriff can go after the foreign criminal cartels that are causing most of the damage.
Randy Wilson, planning director, noted that six agencies of the state government and several county agencies will be involved in regulating cannabis commercial cultivation, processing, transportation and sales, whereas nothing exists today.
Kevin Danaher argued that people will continue to grow cannabis in Plumas County, “It’s just a matter of whether we regulate it or continue the failed policy of prohibition that has existed.”
“Kids can get cannabis easier than cigarettes right now,” he declared, “because cigarettes are regulated and cannabis is not!”
A mother of three boys said, “I’m not scared of cannabis. It’s already here. We can’t avoid it. I think it can be a positive thing if regulated well. However, it seems a little sketchy now.”
The worst environmental damage has come from criminal cartels. Still, some residents worried that water pollution and groundwater depletion would occur with increased cannabis production.
One woman said that she heard that each cannabis plant required hundreds of gallons of water.
A local grower testified that he monitors the water he uses and it takes 2.3 gallons of water per cannabis plant per day. Less, he said, than people use to water their grass. He said that his water table has not dropped.
Harry Rogers pointed out, “Cannabis would be the most highly regulated crop in the state — but only if it is regulated.”
Some local producers hope that competition from legal producers will lower the price of cannabis, running illegal cartels out of the county.
Learning from other counties
Some residents questioned why surrounding counties have not authorized county cannabis ordinances. Some feared that if Plumas is the only county legalizing commercial cannabis that it would attract “bad people.”
One speaker noted that Butte County did go ahead and approve deliveries of medical cannabis and that Butte County is scheduled to revisit a possible ordinance in May 2018.
He also testified that Lassen County’s proposed ordinance was only eight pages long and poorly written.
Harry Rogers said that he talked to authorities in Calaveras County and asked them what things they would do if they had it to do over again and received this response:
First, limit the number of licenses to those people already producing responsibly in the county and move them toward compliance. Second, keep large grows out of the county. Third, require special use permits in residential areas. Fourth, fund cannabis-related law enforcement through taxes or permitting fees.
Most would like to see a county tax on the production and sales of cannabis in Plumas County. The idea was that a tax would be drawn up with public input if the ordinance, in whatever its form, is passed.
By state law, fees can only cover the costs of providing the service to the county.
Taxes would be open to negotiation between producers, the public and the county.
While some feared that the county would lose money with legalized commercial cannabis, one speaker claimed that a town in Colorado of 5,000 people took in $1.5 million in revenue in a single year.
Some growers expressed concern that the costs of regulation would drive the small grower, struggling to make a living in Plumas County, out of the market. One grower feared that the total costs for state and county licenses might go as high as $125,000.
Harry Rogers thought that the cost for growing a few plants might be kept at closer to $15,000-$20,000.