The controversial future of how cannabis will be governed in Calaveras County teetered forward on two split 3-2 votes Wednesday evening as the five-member Planning Commission sent both a ban ordinance and a regulatory ordinance to the Board of Supervisors.
The panel spent more than nine hours on the clock Wednesday dealing with broad themes and minutiae of the regulatory ordinance, with an hour off for lunch. When it came time to vote on how to move forward, the five commissioners took turns talking about the big picture.
“We’re teetering on a 3-2 vote and we don’t know which way they’re going to go,” Lisa Muetterties, District 3 commissioner and chair of the panel, said after both votes, and after a meeting that started at 8:30 a.m. ended after 6 p.m. “I want to make sure protections are in place and they have both options before them.”
Before the panel voted on either a ban or regulation, Kelly Wooster, District 4 commissioner, and Karen Sisk, District 5 commissioner both spoke in favor of recommending a ban to the Board of Supervisors.
“I heard people say a ban should be put back before the board, and I agree,” Wooster said. “I said out front I favor of a ban, and I still do. I think a ban will show respect for the voters. Regulation does not. A ban sends a clear message that you can’t grow here. Any other message invites people to come here to grow.”
Muetterties said Measure D, the marijuana cultivation regulation defeated by Calaveras County voters in November 2016, was “the worst-crafted measure” and “we’re two years into it and we can’t go backwards” and “if we ban it now be we’ll swamped with lawsuits unless voters approve it.”
Tim Laddish, District 2 commissioner, noted that voters last year rejected Measure D, “not what we have here,” referring to the regulatory ordinance the planners worked on all day.
F. Joseph Bechelli, District 1 commissioner, said he could not vote for a complete ban.
“Strict regulation is the only answer to reduce all the problems that we have,” Bechelli said.
Muetterties voted both ways on the two measures. She voted with Wooster and Sisk to send the draft ban ordinance originally crafted for the Board of Supervisors and presented to them back in October. And she voted with Laddish and Bechelli to send the new draft regulatory ordinance to the board.
Peter Maurer, the county planning director, said he understands the Board of Supervisors will take up the new law and which way to go with it at a hearing scheduled Dec. 19. A backup date may be necessary if deliberations and public comments take more than a day, but a secondary date had not been designated as of Wednesday evening, Maurer said.
Before the planning commission voted, they hashed out some of the details they heard from members of the public who had their say earlier Wednesday afternoon. A comparative handful of pro-ban and pro-regulation people on both sides of the county’s keystone issue stayed for the end, whereas earlier there were 40 to 50 people in audience areas for the daylong proceedings.
Laddish thanked people for being relatively civil most of the day, and referred to the rowdy, contentious special cannabis meeting of the Angels Camp City Council staged Nov. 13 in a half-empty high school theater.
People on both sides of the cannabis issue felt strongly about their positions Wednesday but incidents of sniping and open rudeness were infrequent. The most noteworthy instance happened near the end of public comment when a woman complained to the Planning Commission that she can’t afford to have water tested that flows off a grow up the hill from her to her spring. She ended her point by saying she might have to move to Ecuador.
“Bye,” two people in the pro-regulation crowd said dismissively.
Bill McManus with the Committee to Ban Commercial Cultivation in Calaveras County and two other people used their public comment time to read specific recommendations into the record for Wednesday’s hearing.
Sandy Meitrott, a Mountain Ranch resident who identifies herself as pro-regulation, presented county code violations statistics since Jan. 1, 2016 to underscore that county leaders should avoid nitpicking details that cannot realistically be enforced.
She recited stats she said she got as part of a public records request that showed the county has 426 code violations through Nov. 20, with just 102 cases closed.
“I want to make sure the regulations that are there are smart and enforceable,” Meitrott said.
Earlier in the day, outdoor personal grows, noise from gas-driven and diesel-driven generators, and odors from outdoor grows of as few as six cannabis plants featured in planning commission talks as 40 to 50 people watched and waited, some to have their own voices heard.
Banning outside personal grows could limit how much state cannabis tax funding Calaveras County could receive, Laddish said.
“I’m proposing we allow outside personal grows with 500-foot separations from other properties,” Laddish said. “They can grow six plants outdoors out where they have that kind of distance from their neighbors.”
Mauer reminded commissioners that one of the most common complaints county staff deal with is noise from generators.
Odors from outdoor grows and indoor grows have generated plenty of complaints as well. As few as six plants can “stink up a whole neighborhood,” Vallecito resident Vickie Mills told commissioners.
Sisk said she would like to see the new cannabis law limit indoor grows to six plants per residence with required air filtration to eliminate odors.
Laddish said he’d prefer to allow a maximum of up to 18 plants per residence for a primary caregiver who has two patients.
County supervisors Dennis Mills, District 4, and Clyde Clapp, District 5, attended parts of the hearing, observing from audience areas and conferring with constituents outside in a hallway.
Contact Guy McCarthy at email@example.com or (209) 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter @GuyMcCarthy.