Repealing and replacing laws that affect people’s lives can be a messy and emotional process, whether it pertains to federal healthcare policy or local regulations on marijuana.
More than a dozen people spoke at a public meeting on Tuesday in opposition to a recent proposal by the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors that would ban people from growing marijuana outdoors on their property for personal use.
The proposal comes more than a year after the board passed an ordinance that allowed people who use the drug for medical reasons to grow a limited number of marijuana plants inside or outside their private residence.
Some of those who spoke Tuesday criticized the board for making a “knee-jerk reaction” to recent complaints about outdoor cultivation of marijuana.
“I expect you to do a better job,” said La Grange resident Andrea Sarback, who is battling cancer.
Sarback’s husband, Jeff, said they moved to the county specifically to grow marijuana that his wife uses to treat a 3-pound tumor. However, they wouldn’t be able grow enough if forced to do so inside their home.
Several others also spoke about how such a ban would affect their lives, resulting in the board deciding to take a step back from its original proposal.
Donny Garner, of Tuolumne, wept as he told the board that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder following an unsolved arson fire in 2008 at his former home in Florida that killed his fiancee.
Garner said he would rarely get more than two hours of sleep per night or had difficulty appearing in public before he moved to the county this year and started treating his PTSD symptoms with marijuana.
Due to lung damage from the fire, Garner said he has to use edible or vaporized concentrated cannabis that requires him to grow more plants than he would be able to inside his residence.
Garner’s father, Rick Garner, of Sonora, said he moved to California six years ago after he began suffering from seizures because of the state’s longstanding laws allowing the use of marijuana for medical reasons.
“I used to have two or three a week, but I haven’t had any for six years,” Garner said to loud applause from the room.
More than 100 people attended the meeting on Tuesday, with some having to stand along the edges of the room due to a lack of seating.
Many in the audience held up identical signs with a green heart-shaped symbol whenever someone would make pro-marijuana statements. They flipped the signs over to reveal a red X whenever someone would make statements against cultivation.
District 5 Supervisor Karl Rodefer, who leaned back in his chair while looking at his cell phone for much of the first half of the discussion, scolded the audience about civility after several people shouted things while others were speaking.
“I understand this is an emotional issue,” Rodefer said. “One of my great disappointments with my nation right now is people on each side of every issue are screaming at each other instead of talking about it.”
Several people who spoke in favor of tighter restrictions on marijuana cultivation cited odor, fears of crime and overall quality of life.
Sally Miller, of Lake Don Pedro, said she was concerned about drug cartels because state law would allow marijuana to be cultivated by undocumented immigrants, whom she referred to as “illegal people.”
The county ordinance passed in February 2016 allowed people with prescriptions for medical marijuana to grow up to 12 plants inside their residence or outside on their property, or up to 24 plants if two or more people with prescriptions live at the same place.
Part of last month’s proposal by the board to ban outdoor marijuana cultivation also would reduce the maximum number of plants one could grow to six, whether for medical or recreational use.
Melinda Fleming, who lives in District 2 represented by Supervisor Randy Hanvelt, said she can no longer go outside or leave her screen door open because the smell from her neighbor’s marijuana plants is too strong for her.
“Twelve to 24 (plants) is too much,” Fleming said.
Some pro-marijuana advocates criticized Hanvelt’s statement at a meeting last month that some people have told him they are allergic to the smell of marijuana.
One man said he could smell manure from livestock on his neighbor’s property, but that he didn’t complain because it’s part of living in a rural area.
Hanvelt described the arguments dismissing odor concerns as “ridiculous.”
“Any chemist will tell you that odors are in the air because of chemicals,” Hanvelt said.
TY Atkins, a former principal of Summerville Elementary School, said it was unfortunate that the federal government has not taken action on medical marijuana so people would be able to obtain prescriptions like other pharmaceutical drugs.
Marijuana remains an illegal substance with a “high potential for abuse” and “no accepted medical treatment” under federal law in the same category as drugs like heroin, LSD and ecstasy.
After hearing from the public, the board then spent another hour deliberating how it should move forward.
District 3 Supervisor Evan Royce, who was against banning outdoor outdoor cultivation when it was proposed last month, said he was still against a ban but acknowledged that the board must balance the concerns of both sides.
“It’s already been legalized and comes down to a land-use issue,” Royce said. “That’s always difficult because you have to balance property rights with the rights of the neighbor.
“That’s a fine line that we are going to have to discover … I think there are a lot of creative ways to deal with that.”
The Proposition 64 ballot initiative that 57 percent of California voters approved in November to legalize the possession and cultivation of marijuana for recreational use also passed with more than 52 percent of the vote in Tuolumne County.
Royce said he felt the current way the board was approaching the issue didn’t provide enough flexibility and suggested directing county staff to create a skeleton for an ordinance that the board could fill in at a future meeting with the county’s Marijuana Working Group.
The rest of the board members agreed with Royce’s suggested approach and tentatively scheduled the meeting for sometime in November, though an exact date has yet to be determined.
Any ordinance will also include a way to pay for enforcing the ordinance, possibly through a fee for a permit to grow marijuana. County officials have estimated that enforcement would cost at least $477,000 a year in additional employees and resources.
On Tuesday, the board also discussed various aspects that need to be examined with regard to allowing cannabis farms or retail businesses to operate in the county.
The board decided to discuss the matter of commercialization at a special meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. Nov. 14 that will also include members of the county’s Marijuana Working Group.
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 588-4530.