Pro-marijuana group seeks Truckee support to challenge county ordinance

Margaret Moran
File photo A medical marijuana patient exhales smoke.

TRUCKEE, Calif. – The Nevada County chapter of Americans for Safe Access is expanding to Truckee with a goal of more outreach as it prepares to sponsor a challenge to the county’s marijuana cultivation law.

“It’s important to involve the entire community because it affects the entire community,” said Nevada County ASA chair Patricia Smith.

The ordinance, which the Nevada County Board of Supervisors adopted 4-1 on May 8, 2012, regulates legal cannabis growth from a nuisance standpoint within unincorporated areas in the county. The ordinance limits growth based on parcel size, property zoning and setbacks, and imposes other restrictions such as fencing and lighting regulations.

“It tries to balance people’s right to grow legal marijuana and the quality of life of their neighbors,” said Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Steve Tripp. “… Everything in the ordinance is so everyone can co-exist together.”

But Smith said the ordinance isn’t fair to patients by limiting the amount of medicine that most agree is needed to get from one growing season to another, which is typically from April through September in Nevada County.

“That set space is so small that people can barely grow for themselves, let alone for someone else,” Smith said.

According to the county ordinance, a rural zoned parcel that is less than two acres is limited to 100 square feet of indoor cultivation or 150 square feet of outdoor cultivation. Residential zoned parcels of two acres or more are limited to 75 outdoor square feet and 100 indoor square feet.

On May 21, 2012, the ASA Nevada County chapter filed a complaint against the ordinance, the major point of contention being that it restricts growth by square footage rather than plant counts, Smith said.

The complaint is still in litigation, said Nevada County Counsel Alison Barratt-Green, adding that the county has filed a motion to dismiss certain issues. If the motion is denied, the complaint would go to trial on June 18, 2013.

By then, the growing season will be well under way, so the ASA Nevada County chapter is sponsoring a voter initiative that will be filed at the beginning of next week in hopes of redefining the ordinance’s terms prior to the growing season, Smith said.

ASA’s goal is to replace Nevada County’s ordinance with something similar to Yuba County’s marijuana cultivation law, Smith said, which many say is the most progressive in the state.

That ordinance – passed by the Yuba County Board of Supervisors, 4-1, on Dec. 11, 2011 – dictates the number of plants and their maturity level that can be grown on various parcel sizes.

For parcels less than one acre, there is a combined limit of indoor and outdoor cultivation of no more than 18 marijuana plants, with 12 of them being mature. With parcels 20 acres or more with one residence, the combined limit of indoor and outdoor cultivation is no more than 99 plants, of which only 60 can be mature.

“It’s quite generous,” Smith said.

Tripp pointed out that large marijuana gardens can be unsightly, produce a pungent smell and attract a criminal element. In 2012, NCSO received 300 nuisance garden complaints, he said. From those, 92 notices to abate were issued, of which nine civil warrants were served, seizing 214 plants. Further, 21 arrests were made and 19 firearms were seized, including illegal assault weapons. Also, approximately $42,000 was seized.

“The only harmful thing about marijuana is the prohibition,” countered Smith, adding that legal restrictions on marijuana create issues such as growing for profit.

The decision for ASA to expand to Truckee comes at a time when the California Supreme Court heard arguments in early February on whether local municipalities can ban retail pot dispensaries within their jurisdiction.

In Nevada County, the county, Grass Valley and Nevada City have outright bans, while the town of Truckee does not allow dispensaries in its zoning language.

“The way our zoning operates is that if it is not specially allowed, it is prohibited,” said Truckee Town Manager Tony Lashbrook, adding that there has been little town demand to open such a storefront.

During oral arguments on Feb. 5, several California Supreme Court justices said they were bothered by the fact that neither the 1996 voter-approved law that legalized marijuana use for health purposes, nor 2003-adopted companion legislation, expressly state that cities and counties must accommodate retail marijuana stores.

Based on those sentiments, Barratt-Green said Nevada County is not anticipating an impact on its current ban.

The Supreme Court has 90 days to make a ruling, which could affect the fate of marijuana shop bans adopted by about 200 cities and counties.

In California, upon physician recommendation for use of medical marijuana, patients and their primary caregivers may apply for and be issued a Medical Marijuana Identification Card, giving them authorization to possess, grow, and/or use medical marijuana in the state.

– Matthew Renda, a reporter with The Union, the Sun’s sister paper in Grass Valley, contributed to this report.

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