Election 2016: Measure W vote hinges on outdoor pot prohibition
Primary election information
The final day to register to vote in the June 7 primary election is Monday, May 23. The early voting period began May 9.
For Nevada County residents, you can vote either at the Nevada County Elections Office in Nevada City, Monday - Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; or, locally at Truckee Town Hall: 10183 Truckee Airport Road, Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. to noon and 1-5 p.m.
In Placer County, your only early voting option outside of an absentee ballot is in person at the Placer County Elections Office, 2956 Richardson Drive, Auburn, Monday - Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In El Dorado County, registered voters can vote locally at the El Dorado County Recorder/Clerk location in South Lake Tahoe, 3368 Lake Tahoe Blvd., Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. to noon and 1-5 p.m.
GRASS VALLEY, Calif. — If the June 7 election in Nevada County were a stage, Measure W would be the star of the show.
No other issue this election season has drawn more debate, more ire and likely more stolen campaign signs than any other.
The initiative, if passed, would impose a voter-implemented outdoor medical marijuana grow ban and 12-plant indoor limitation.
The indoor grows would require permitting and be in a structure not intended for human occupancy. Only qualified medical marijuana patients and their caregivers could grow.
Since the Board of Supervisors on Jan. 12 imposed their own ban and placed Measure W on the June ballot, there have been marathon-length meetings, verbal sparring and outright hostility — most of that, if not all, occurring in the Sierra Foothills.
The January meeting drew a crowd so large, the fire marshal ensured exit paths existed in board chambers for any future meetings on the issue.
Supporters of Measure W say neighborhood groups and homeowners want the ban after seeing the escalating, negative effects of marijuana grows.
The measure’s detractors say supervisors failed to work with them, claiming regulation, not prohibition, is the answer to the state’s changing landscape on cannabis.
Adding fuel to the fire was Supervisor Dan Miller’s comment at an April forum that passing Measure W ensured no future board could overturn it. Only another vote of the people could overturn Measure W if it passes.
Yes or no
For Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, the regulation of cannabis is essential.
“The bottom line is that cannabis is here in California,” Allen said. “It’s here in Nevada County. The pathway forward is to regulate this activity.”
Allen argues that Measure W is a step backward, and that the community should tackle the impact cannabis brings. Prohibition failed, he said.
“A ban paints every cultivator with a broad brush,” Allen said. “Those folks are part of the solution. A ban closes the door entirely when what we need is increased dialogue.”
Don Bessee, executive director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana of Northern California, argues that Measure W is a reasonable approach to curbing the large, illegal grows that plague the county.
According to Bessee, growers failed to comply with the 2012 ordinance that allowed outdoor grows. Homeowners began complaining about the smell of the grows, aggressive pit bulls guarding those grows and the threats people would receive. They became scared, with some reaching the point where they wouldn’t complain to authorities.
Measure W provides those with a legitimate medical need a method of growing cannabis. It also would lead the larger growers to leave the county, Bessee said.
“The issue is the criminals who use that as a cloak of respectability,” he added.
Allen, however, argues that an outdoor grow ban will only maintain the status quo. Illegal growers won’t comply with Measure W.
The smell, where grows are allowed, its effect on water and the environment — those are also issues that regulation can address, Allen said.
“The blunt object that is a ban is completely unreasonable,” he said, adding later, “It just won’t work.”
Growers have repeatedly said they want to work with the board on regulating cannabis. Sheriff Keith Royal, however, has told supervisors compromise couldn’t happen. The two sides stood too far apart on the issue.
Allen called that “childish,” noting that growers worked with state officials on the sweeping regulations passed into law last year by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Bessee dismissed the argument that the county refused to work with growers.
“They pretend like they’re the only people in the county,” he said, noting the drafting process for the 2012 ordinance took a year.
“The measure is reasonable,” he added. “It’s middle of the road.”
Measure W has loomed over the District 2 Board of Supervisors race and also has played a role in the District 1 contest as well.
Of note, in the race for District 5 — which includes Truckee — current supervisor Richard Anderson (a former Truckee mayor) is running unopposed in the primary.
Questions about cannabis dominated a recent District 2 forum. Richard Harris opposes the measure. His opponent, Supervisor Ed Scofield, approved the existing supervisor grow ban and supports Measure W.
Running for the District 1 seat, Heidi Hall opposes Measure W. Duane Strawser, her opponent, has said the issue should go to the voters, noting he would have approached the measure differently from the supervisors.
Alan Riquelmy is a staff writer with The Union newspaper, a sister paper of the Sierra Sun that serves Nevada City, Grass Valley and other communities in the Sierra Foothills.