A potential ban on growing marijuana outdoors in the unincorporated area of Tuolumne County would cost taxpayers at least $477,000 to enforce, according to county officials.

At a public meeting Tuesday, the county’s Community Resources Agency will ask the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors for further guidance in creating an ordinance by the end of the year that would ban people from growing marijuana outdoors for medical or nonmedical personal use.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on the fourth floor of the County Administration Center at 2 S. Green St. in Sonora.

A rise in citizen complaints since the county began allowing people to grow up to 12 medical-marijuana plants per individual and 24 per parcel last year has prompted the board to request tighter restrictions on the practice, reduce the number of plants people can grow to six, and boost enforcement.

State law approved by California voters in November makes it legal for people to grow up to six plants at a private residence for recreational or medical use, though it also allows local governments to ban outdoor cultivation.

The Community Resources Agency, which oversees code enforcement, and the Sheriff’s Office say they would need additional resources to more actively pursue people violating the rules, whether or not the board chooses to ban outdoor cultivation.

Enforcement of the county’s existing regulations on marijuana cultivation is entirely driven by citizen complaints.

“I’m saying there is not enough resources to do what they’re asking, regardless of the previous decision,” said David Gonzalves, executive director of the Community Resources Agency.

The agency would need to hire an additional code compliance officer, a part-time code compliance officer during the marijuana growing season from May to October, and an administrative assistant, while the Sheriff’s Office would need to add four full-time deputies.

The estimated cost for the additional resources would be at least $477,000 per year, not including additional funding needed for vehicles and supplies.

One of the ways the board has proposed to pay for enforcing the ban is by charging a fee to people growing up to six plants of marijuana inside their residence as allowed by state law.

County staff is still reviewing whether state law would allow the board to impose such a fee and plans to present their findings at a future meeting.

Cannabis advocates have criticized the proposed ban on outdoor cultivation as shortsighted.

District 3 Supervisor Evan Royce was the only supervisor to vote against proposing the ban, saying the county wouldn’t have enough funding for enforcement and people will grow outside anyway.

Cities and counties that allow outdoor cultivation and retail sales will be eligible to apply for state grants to help pay for enforcement efforts related to legal marijuana after the state begins issuing licenses to cannabis businesses next year.

Tuolumne County currently bans retail sales and commercial cultivation of marijuana.

On Tuesday, the board will also consider providing direction to staff regarding the possibility of allowing commercial activity in the unincorporated area.

Advocates of the cannabis industry have argued that allowing a limited number of commercial activities, such as dispensaries, farms and manufacturing facilities, would provide much-needed revenue to the county for enforcement and other needs.

Opponents of allowing commercial activity say it would bring more crime and disturb neighborhoods.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.












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