The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 Tuesday afternoon to pass a temporary urgency ordinance that immediately bans people who live in certain residential zoning districts from growing cannabis outdoors and reduces the number of plants allowed in all areas to a maximum of six.
At the same time, the board ordered some changes to a proposed permanent ordinance that will be reviewed by the Tuolumne County Planning Commission at a meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight on the fourth floor of the County Administration Center at 2 S. Green St. in Sonora.
County staff recommended putting the urgency ordinance in place prior to this year’s growing season, which typically begins around June, in hopes of curbing some of the issues that came mostly from residential neighborhoods last year.
The board previously passed regulations in early 2016 that allowed a single individual with a valid doctor’s recommendation for medical cannabis to grow a maximum of 12 plants on his or her property in the unincorporated area. That limit increased to 24 if more than person with a recommendation lived at the residence.
Under the urgency ordinance, people in the R-1, R-2, and R-3 zoning districts are no longer allowed to grow cannabis outdoors. People in those districts are allowed to grow up to six plants inside their home whether or not they have a medical recommendation.
The same rules apply for the C-1, C-2, C-5, C-K, C-O, MU, BP, M-1, M-2, K, TPZ zoning districts.
Only residents who live in RE-1, RE-2, RE-3, RE-5, RE-10, A-10, A-20 and AE-37 are allowed to grow a maximum of six plants outdoors. They could also opt to grow the same number inside their residence, but not both at the same time.
New state laws that went into effect after 57 percent of California voters approved Proposition 64 in the November 2016 election allow people to grow up to six plants at their homes for personal use, though cities and counties can ban outdoor growing as they see fit.
The board took another look at its 2016 rules on personal cannabis cultivation for medicinal use last year after receiving complaints from people about odor and other nuisances issues related to people growing pot in their neighborhoods.
David Gonzalves, director of the county Community Resources Agency, didn’t have an exact number Tuesday but estimated there were hundreds of complaints received between all five supervisors. He said the majority of complaints came from people in R-1, R-2, and R-3 zoning districts, which are typically higher density neighborhoods with smaller parcels.
Some at Tuesday’s meeting supported the new rules, while others said they would no longer be able to grow outdoors on their property.
David McGuigan, who lives in the unincorporated area of Sonora, said he grows cannabis for personal, medicinal use and purchased his half-acre property in October 2016 specifically to be in compliance with the county’s rules at the time.
McGuigan is no longer be able to grow his plants outdoors because he’s in the R-1 zoning district.
“Please stop insulting us who are medical cannabis patients by saying you support medical cannabis,” he told the four supervisors in attendance, who have largely said they don’t have issues with people using the drug for a medical need. “Your actions to date have been nothing but the contrary.”
Kira Tucker, a pro-cannabis advocate who served on the county’s recently dissolved Marijuana Working Group, said a survey of roughly 200 personal growers conducted by her group at the end of last year’s growing season found that about 60 percent would no longer be able to grow outdoors under the new rules.
Tucker also said more than 95 percent who took the survey said they were growing for a medical reason.
That was in step with information provided to the board by Doug Oliver, the county’s chief building official, who visited growers during last year’s season and found that all of them had a valid recommendation from a doctor.
“Whether they were growing 12 plants, or 24 plants or 99 plants, I can’t recall a grow I’ve worked with in the county that didn’t have a recommendation, or medical card, or something posted from a doctor,” Oliver said.
David Peters, of Tuolumne, said he supported the urgency ordinance and didn’t have as much of a concern about medical cannabis as he does with commercial cultivation and sales of cannabis. However, he believed the county’s new rules didn’t go far enough.
Peters has attended many public meetings over the past year to urge the board against allowing any commercial activity.
Bob Kirk, of Mi-Wuk Village, also voiced support for the urgency ordinance and has spoken against commercial cannabis at past meetings. His son, Anaiah Kirk, recently filed to run for supervisor in District 3 that will be vacated by Evan Royce at the end of the year.
The urgency ordinance required approval from four out of five supervisors to pass, but District 1 Supervisor Sherri Brennan was absent. That opened the door for some back and forth discussion after Royce initially said he wouldn’t support it without a compromise on the proposed permanent ordinance.
After several breaks to confer with county staff, Royce proposed allowing people in all zoning districts to grow inside a greenhouse or accessory structure on their property and increase the proposed limit to 12 plants for people in the A-10, A-20, and AE-37 agricultural zoning districts.
Anyone growing more than six plants in the agricultural zoning districts would still require a valid doctor’s recommendation under state law.
District 4 Supervisor John Gray and District 5 Supervisor Karl Rodefer both said they would support the compromise, but District 2 Supervisor Randy Hanvelt pumped the brakes.
“I’m not sure I would buy into that trade,” Hanvelt said, adding that he would still vote to approve the urgency ordinance.
Royce said he was willing to vote on passing the urgency ordinance because he was under the impression that Hanvelt would compromise on the permanent one. When it became clear Hanvelt wasn’t budging, Royce said it would take only three supervisors to pass a permanent ordinance with or without Hanvelt’s support.
The board then passed the urgency ordinance 4-0. It’s scheduled to expire on April 6, but the board can vote to extend it for up to 22 months and 15 days.
A public hearing is tentatively scheduled on March 6 for the board to consider approving the permanent ordinance, after the planning commission reviews and makes any recommendations tonight.
If the board passes the permanent ordinance on March 6, it would become effective on April 5.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.