Union Democrat staff

The public next week will get one of multiple chances to sound off on a new medical marijuana law in unincorporated Tuolumne County.

The county's Planning Commission will hold a public hearing Wednesday, Jan. 15, on the proposal, which would ban outdoor cultivation of medical marijuana, as well as dispensaries and collectives. The proposed law also calls for strict regulation of indoor growing operations.

While the Tuolumne County Planning Commission will not have the final decision on the marijuana law, the commission is tasked with making recommendations on the proposal to the county Board of Supervisors, which will have the final say.

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. on the fourth floor of the county administration building at 2 S. Green St. in Sonora.

Under the proposed law, legal medical marijuana users and patient caretakers would be allowed to only grow their own cannabis indoors on the same parcel as the state-approved consumer. Those individuals would also be allowed to keep up to three pounds of processed cannabis at any given time.

The regulations would be set forth in county zoning laws, and violations would be infractions with fines in the hundreds of dollars. The Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office, not building code officials, would enforce the regulations under the current proposal.

The ordinance was drafted by a committee with members from the county counsel, district attorney, public health, sheriff and planning offices.

Proponents have said the law will allow the county to allow access to medical pot while avoiding lawbreaking and nuisances like unwanted odors from growing operations. But critics have said the proposal is too restrictive.

California voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, allowing doctors to recommend medical marijuana for nearly any ailment. The law has led hundreds of loosely regulated retail storefronts selling pot across the state.

Some municipalities have created a permitting process for medical marijuana dispensaries that allows them to operate much like other legal businesses. Others have used zoning laws to effectively outlaw the dispensaries altogether.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law.