Cannabis Committee Members Ponder Next Steps

By SLVNews.Net

After a harmonious first meeting, the Santa Cruz County Cannabis Cultivation Choices Committee (C4) reconvened on Tuesday, September 22 at the Simpkins Center with a few hiccups mainly around how best to proceed through “fact finding” exercises as they strive to draft recommendations for a new County ordinance.

County CAO Analyst Susan Pearlman opened the meeting by distributing more printed reading material to add to the over 500 pages already given to each member. She referenced the the first of these – an article published in 2014 in Mother Jones titled The Landscape-Scarring, Energy-Sucking, Wildlife-Killing Reality of Pot Farming – before telling the public that they were welcome to submit documents or ideas, to her for distribution to the committee.

After explaining the public comment policy to the 20 or more in attendance she invited anyone to speak. Once again their were only a few from the audience who chose to speak.

Pearlman then pulled the first item on the agenda – a discussion of the recently passed state legislation. – saying that since the Governor has yet to sign the bill it would be premature and should be rescheduled.

Some committee members expressed concern that the legislation, if signed, will have a significant impact on the their work and should be reviewed sooner than later. Some noted that it will take the State years to promulgate all the rules, others pointed to compliance dates that may need to be met on the local level.

Two attorneys from the County then presented an overview of the current county ordinance. They asked that the focus of any questions be on “the what and not the why”.

According to the County attorneys under the current county ordinance

  • an individual, with a medical recommendation, is allowed to cultivate with restrictions. A number of these restrictions were discussed. This is where the 100 sq ft combined canopy plays a significant role; another applies only to residents of the 2nd district (Aptos, Seacliff) who apparently can only grow indoors.
  • Commercial cultivation is illegal. Despite that simple language, the ordinance provides a series of caveats that while not “permitting” commercial cultivation, set out various rules based upon zoning, size of parcel, setbacks, etc., that if followed could provide a “limited immunity” from criminal prosecution. Chief among these restriction are that “Every medical cannabis cultivation business is prohibited that is not collectively or cooperatively cultivating cannabis for medicine: (1) for use among its members or (2) to provide medicine to a Santa Cruz County medical cannabis business as defined in and operating under Chapter 7.124 SCCC” And “Every medical cannabis cultivation business is prohibited if: The location contains more than 99 cannabis plants;” (So all commercial cultivation is prohibited and especially so if there are 100 or more plants. ed)

The one “why” question that was addressed concerned the apparent “legal ambiguity” which was justified as a remedy to the perceived conflicts between state and/or federal laws.

In response to questioning about current enforcement practices, County counsel noted that the Sheriff is a constitutional officer sworn to uphold state law, nonetheless he pointed out that Sheriff Hart has said his resources would be more focused on code enforcement (as opposed to criminal prosecution) by cultivators and that actions would be primarily complaint driven. He also defended recent actions by the Sheriff’s office that resulted in eradication of some plants at various sites saying that they were bringing the cultivators into compliance with the 99 plant rule.

Consultant Eric Olsen then led a discussion around how the committee would proceed. He suggested an exercise to “triage” the issues and discussed how members in small groups should make field trips to gather information to share with the committee as a whole.

The next item on the agenda – “Conditions in the Field” was a presentation by a pair of staffers from the County Planning Department, and a representative from CAL FIRE. A slide show, with now familiar photos of cultivation sites, showing environmental damage caused by fire, illegal grading etc. as well as Google Earth images and other photos were followed by questioning from committee members.

The Planning Department slide deck is due to be published on the Committee’s Website.

Members raised a broad range of questions like what was the level of resources and time the agencies were being required to commit to incidences related to cultivation sites and what types of mitigation or remediation might be expected with new regulations? Many members appeared to be looking for quantifiable data as well as suggestions from all three presenters on how to move forward.

Fifth District appointee Eric Hammer wanted to know how revenue from the Measure K tax was affecting the department. He was told a new half time position had been created and that person was spending half their time on cultivation issues.

In spite of repeated reminders that the committee was falling behind schedule, members continued to discuss among themselves both the previous presentation and how they wished to proceed. One questioned the need to continue “fact finding” regarding environmental impacts. He wondered if the committee really needed to learn more about fish spawning.

Kim Sammet, a committee member representing SCM2, a Santa Cruz Mountain group, suggested that a focus on best management practices would be a more useful way to proceed.. This pivot seemed well received by many members – as well as much of the audience – and suggestions for future presenters were solicited and offered including representatives from WAMM as well as prominent state and national cannabis advocate organizations

A scheduled brainstorming session to set priorities was abandoned and Pearlman and Olsen requested that committee members submit their suggestions for future agenda items and presenters in writing and that an attempt would be made to accommodate their wishes prior to the next meeting Sep 29.

[ This article was originally published at SLVNews.net ]