Citizens against cannabis change most planning commissioners’ minds

While decisions to eliminate commercial cultivation of cannabis have been resolved by the Plumas County Board of Supervisors, members of the Planning Commission and the public continued discussing personal cultivation, retailer/dispensary and distributor considerations Thursday, June 20.

More than 40 people, including supervisors Sherrie Thrall and Jeff Engel, and Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood, attended a packed meeting on the continuing pros and cons of cannabis business in Plumas County.

There was almost no mention of commissioners’ considerations concerning rules of growing up to six plants for personal use.

Commissioners themselves said they thought they had done a good job establishing proposed regulations on home growing for personal consumption.

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But when it came down to what to do about retailer/dispensary proposed regulations and distributor rules, acting chair John Olofson said he was embarrassed about what they had worked out in previous workshops.

When it came down to voting, at the recommendation of retiring Plumas County Planning Director Randy Wilson the issues were separated. In voting for personal cultivation of cannabis, commissioners easily approved it.

Considering the second vote to eliminate retailer/dispensary and distribution proposal, commissioners voted three to one against it. “So, what will happen now is that I will prepare a new ordinance and a new resolution making recommendations to the Board of Supervisors and bring it back for finalization on July 11,” said Assistant Planning Director Becky Herrin.

Opening comments

The public, especially members of a citizens’ cannabis group, filled even additional chairs, and the hallway as residents provided opinions for commissioners to consider as additional recommendations on cannabis in Plumas County were presented to planning commissioners.

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A lot of what was said had been said in other forums, but a few new voices were heard amidst concerns and demands in what became a continued public hearing.

Before the public hearing was opened, Herrin went over the proposal as developed in three previous workshops. A moratorium placed on cannabis by the Board of Supervisors last year expires Oct. 13, she reminded the audience.

Although this public hearing did not address growing hemp, Herrin reminded commissioners and the audience that hemp growing is legal under state and federal laws.

The reason planning commissioners have not held workshops to discuss legal hemp production in Plumas County is the state is still in flux about hemp regulations, Herrin explained.

Storefront dispensaries and sales of cannabis are not permitted under the current moratorium, Herrin said.

Deliveries of cannabis and cannabis products from outside Plumas County are taking place inside the county. It’s “not something we can ban,” Herrin said.

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If supervisors approved dispensaries and distribution businesses they come with existing regulations pertaining to location and require special use permits. Operating standards would also be in place, Herrin explained.

Herrin said the planning department has already received complaints concerning cannabis. “Out of curiosity, how many complaints have we had?” asked Commissioner Jeff Greening.

Herrin said she wasn’t sure of the precise number, but “I’ve heard a couple.”

Complaints tend to center around personal growers with more than the six allowable plants and plants reaching heights taller than the fence, she said.

“It’s still early in the season,” Wilson said.

Following Herrin’s presentation, Sheriff Hagwood was invited to express his opinions concerning dispensaries and distribution.

From the sheriff

Hagwood said he could not support or endorse retailer/dispensary and distributor.

Everything else aside, Hagwood said that just looking at the population of Plumas County it can’t provide an economically viable opportunity for these kinds of storefronts.

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He pointed out that commercial cannabis production isn’t legal in the county so it would have to come in from other sources outside Plumas.

Hagwood said that retailer/dispensary and distributors aren’t needed. He knows people who use cannabis medically and recreationally and there are already plenty of resources available. “There is an abundance of cannabis available to people in our county,” he said. “I don’t recognize a fundamental need for it.”

Hagwood said that he travels a lot throughout the state. “I just don’t see a risk/reward,” he explained about the benefits versus the seeming downside of having storefronts.

He said there is a lot of bureaucracy that must be created around permits and administration of storefronts. This would offset any financial benefit that would come to Plumas County through taxes from cannabis sales.

Looking at populations, Quincy might sustain a commercial cannabis establishment for sales, but other areas don’t have the numbers.

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“I agree with you,” Greening said. Chester’s population routinely swells in the summer months and “practically dissolves during the winter.”

At this point Commissioner Larry Williams brought up cannabis sales’ black market. “We stay very busy with the black market,” Hagwood said.

During the summer the sheriff’s office works with the three national forests in Plumas (Plumas, Lassen and Tahoe) trying to eliminate grows run by the cartels.

Last summer they had 40 to 50 cases in 90 days, he said. This year will be just as high if not higher.

But to administer and enforce legal operations would cost more money than would be realized by the county, Hagwood said.

“I don’t see a need,” he said. And nobody’s complaining that people can’t get their cannabis, he added.

Greening asked Hagwood if he was hearing any chatter from the Federal Drug Administration?

“I don’t know where the federal government is headed when it comes to these issues,” Hagwood responded. “I’m not a big fan of federal involvement in our local issues.”

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“Or state,” Greening added.

Hagwood said that it’s his goal to manage the cannabis situation with the staff he has without infringing on people’s rights. And the regulations should reflect that.

Public hearing

Olofson then opened the public portion of the hearing. Herrin reminded people that they were not talking about hemp today.

Joseph Munoz, a longtime Quincy resident, and leader of the citizens’ cannabis coalition, pointed out that only three precincts supported Measure B during last fall’s election.

Measure B was before voters allowing them to express their opinions about local cannabis concerns. It won by a 65 percent to 35 percent margin, Munoz said.

Considering the three local precincts that favored cannabis, Munoz said those areas are quite small. The largest was south Portola.

And Munoz wasn’t alone in reminding commissioners that overwhelmingly voters in Plumas County said they didn’t want cannabis and that included everything that went with it.

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Susan Christensen, another member of the citizens’ group, pointed out new research concerning cannabis and opioid use.

Until just recently proponents of cannabis for medical use referred to research saying that cannabis use, especially for pain management, was advisable over opioid use.

In 2014, a paper published by the Journal for the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine reported that cannabis use lowered opioid overdoses in states with medical marijuana approval. “The 2014 study found that between 1999 and 2010, states with medical cannabis laws had a nearly 25 percent lower average rate of opioid overdose deaths than states without such laws,” according to JAMA.

But just recently new research has changed that. Citing an article concerning new research reported in JAMA, Christensen explained that with 34 states now with legalized medical marijuana the number of opioid overdose death had grown. Since 2017 the numbers were six times higher than in 1999.

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“When they limited their analyses to the same time period as the original study, they saw the same trend. But when they expanded the time frame through 2017, the association between medical marijuana laws and opioid overdose deaths reversed: States with medical marijuana laws had average rates of opioid overdose deaths that were nearly 23 percent higher than those without these laws,” according to research.

Christensen said that proponents of cannabis would use the older research statistics to say it helps to alleviate opioid use. “I concur with the sheriff in that regard,” she said. When she voted no on Measure B, “I was voting no to all cannabis use.”

Longtime resident Bill Martin said he was against retail cannabis storefronts. He thought that when Measure B was defeated that shut the door to all cannabis activities.

“Last week, the Sacramento Bee featured a forecast ofthe state’s senior population distribution by 2030,” Martin said. “Among California’s 58 counties, Plumas joins eight others expected to reach or exceed a 40 percent senior population by then.”

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Martin said that having senior residents could bring good things. Many are financially independent and boost the tax base. They require fewer calls to law enforcement or social services. And they are tourism ambassadors for others to visit or relocate. “Retail cannabis in tourist frequented locations will dampen this trend, while enticing more youth to try what would seem as accessible as alcohol and tobacco,” he said.

Quincy resident Joe Hagwood said he’s lived in the same house for 44 years with the same wife and same family. He also reminded people that he’s been very active in the education community as the superintendent of schools, an administrator and a principal.

Hagwood said he has seen the damage caused by cannabis in students’ homes. He remembers when a 10-year-old brought cannabis to school and formed a gang. If students didn’t buy from him he would hurt them.

Hagwood said he has written many grants to help suppress marijuana. He said he’s been sued for $1 million by allowing a dog to search for marijuana at Quincy High School.

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Hagwood’s against storefronts. He sees them as the slow and steady erosion of standards and discipline in schools. It tells students that marijuana use is condoned.

He added that to suggest that because a storefront has to be a certain distance from any school will keep students from being interested or finding it “is ludicrous,” he said. “Please don’t allow storefronts.”

Quincy resident Greg Kinne was one of two residents who spoke in favor of commercial cannabis operations.

Kinne said the Calaveras County sheriff said that dispensaries haven’t been a problem there. He knows people who purchase marijuana outside Plumas County and they care for their children. He encouraged commissioners to offer recommendations to supervisors supporting storefronts.

Amber Marshall representing Plumas Bank reminded everyone that federal banking services are not available to cannabis activities. Therefore all operations have to go underground, she said.

Looking at statistics in other states where cannabis is legal and storefronts are open, the crime rate has increased, she said, although she did not cite sources. She said that would happen in Plumas County communities as well.

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Commissioners’ discussion

At length, Olofson closed the public hearing and allowed commissioners and planning staff to discuss the proposals.

Olofson said that the planning commission had spent a lot of time and resources going through the process “and this is what we came up with. Frankly, I’m embarrassed this is what we’ve come up with,” he said.

Although commissioners hosted three public workshops to discuss personal cannabis cultivation regulations and the retailer/dispensary and distributor proposals, no one from the public was there to help guide the process.

Commissioner Moorea Hoffman Stout said she wasn’t comfortable sending what they had previously drafted to the Board of Supervisors to consider.

“I’m comfortable with what we’ve drafted for personal grows,” Stout said. But not the other.

Ultimately commissioners decided to continue the public hearing on retailer/dispensary and distribution to the Thursday, July 11, meeting.