People who live in certain zoning districts will be allowed to grow a limited number of cannabis plants outdoors on their property for personal use, despite a last-ditch effort on Tuesday aimed at getting the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors to allow indoor cultivation only.
The board voted 4-0 to approve an ordinance crafted over the course of several months and endorsed last month by the county Planning Commission, with only slight changes related to setbacks.
District 2 Supervisor Randy Hanvelt did not attend Tuesday’s meeting because he was in Washington, D.C., for the annual National Association of Counties Legislative Conference.
Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele asked the board to consider banning outdoor cultivation in all zoning districts, or at least increasing the setback from a neighboring property line from 75 feet to 100 feet in certain residential-estate zoning districts where people could grow up to six plants outside.
“They have the right to do what they want with their property, but they don’t have the right to impede on my pursuit of happiness,” Mele said. “That’s going to be the case with the smell and odor (from cultivating cannabis outdoors).”
There were also several mothers with young children who voiced support for a ban on outdoor cultivation.
Jerusha Waelty said she recently moved to a three-acre residential lot in Sonora where her neighbor was growing 12 large cannabis plants that towered over the fence between their yards. She was concerned that her children could get their hands on the drug.
“I’m just here on behalf of my children’s safety,” she said. “I don’t want it in my neighborhood. I would hope that someone in the county would help on our behalf.”
Mary Lamendola, of Sonora, was also holding her 2-year-old son as she expressed support for banning outdoor cultivation. She also has three other children ages 4, 8, and 10.
Also in support of an outdoor ban was Steve Weldon, of Tuolumne, who said he moved to California from Texas in 2000. He believes the Golden State has a “penchant for catering to the minority and forgetting about the majority.”
“What’s wrong with growing it inside?” he asked.
District 3 Supervisor Evan Royce pointed out to Weldon that 52 percent of voters in the county approved Proposition 64 in November 2016, which effectively legalized the recreational use and cultivation of cannabis statewide.
Weldon responded that he believed many would take their vote back now if they could.
At previous meetings on the topic over the past two-plus years, people who are in favor of being allowed to grow cannabis have said that outdoors is safer, cost-effective, and energy efficient than growing inside a residence.
The board approved an ordinance in February 2016 that allowed individuals with a valid doctor’s recommendation for medicinal-use cannabis to grow a maximum of 12 plants on their property, indoors or outdoors, regardless of zoning district. That limit went up to 24 plants if more than one person with a recommendation lived at the same residence.
California voters approved Proposition 64 in November 2016 that made it legal for anyone 21 or over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants at their home for recreational use.
Cities and counties, however, are still allowed to limit or ban outdoor cultivation through local ordinances.
The board later received complaints from a number of people last summer about their neighbors growing marijuana outdoors, mostly in regard to the smell. That led to the board rescinding their previous ordinance and putting a more restrictive urgency ordinance in place until they could approve a permanent one.
Several supervisors expressed frustration on Tuesday about constituents who seem to be unaware that Proposition 64 effectively legalized growing and using marijuana statewide.
“I’m still getting emails from people saying don’t allow the growing of marijuana in Tuolumne County,” said District 4 Supervisor John Gray, who serves as board chairman.
Though the deliberations about cannabis over the past two years have remained mostly civil, most public hearings like the one on Tuesday take multiple hours as people on both sides of the issue air their views.
District 5 Supervisor Karl Rodefer said he believed both sides obfuscate the facts to fit their own agenda.
“However I vote, it’s going to be for what I think is the best for the greater Tuolumne County,” he said. “If you don’t agree with me, I apologize … Well, I don’t apologize. I got elected to make tough decisions and I’m fine with that, but I’m sorry I can’t make everybody happy.”
The new ordinance that takes effect on April 5 will allow people in RE-1, RE-2, RE-3, RE-5, RE-10, A-10, A-20 and AE-37 zoning districts to grow up to six plants outdoors at least 100 feet from the neighboring property line.
People in A-10, A-20 and AE-37 could grow up to 12 outdoors if they have a recommendation from a doctor for a medical need.
No outdoor grows will be allowed within 1,000 feet of any “sensitive use,” which means schools, school evacuation sites, churches, parks, licensed daycares, youth-oriented facilities, libraries, playgrounds, youth recreation centers, drug or alcohol rehabs, licensed sober living facilities, and federal lands.
Some who were in favor of allowing people to grow cannabis said they believed that including federal lands as a “sensitive use area” was too restrictive because nearly 80 percent of the land in the county is managed by a federal agency.
District 1 Supervisor Sherri Brennan ultimately voted in support of the ordinance after raising concerns that growing would be considered a “nonconforming use.” That means if a “sensitive use” was built within 1,000 feet of someone who was already growing pot outdoors legally on their property, they would be allowed to continue doing that.
“I’m hoping the day will come where we build a school again in Tuolumne County,” Brennan said.
The board agreed to a compromise where the person growing outdoors would be given 18 months to move their plants indoors or into an accessory structure if a “sensitive use” popped up within 1,000 feet of their property.
People in all zoning districts could grow up to six plants inside a greenhouse or other type of accessory structure on their property as long as it met the standards in the county’s building code.
Security and other requirements that apply to indoor grows would be the same for grows inside an accessory structure, such as odor control.
The board also approved a permitting process for people planning to grow outdoors or inside an accessory structure that would require them to register and pay a fee of between $125 and $500, which would pay for enforcing the ordinance.
An enforcement team will be assembled that includes a code compliance investigator, an office assistant, two Sheriff’s deputies and a paralegal for the County Counsel’s Office at a cost of about $415,000 next year for all of their salaries and benefits combined.
The board approved budgeting the items for the 2018-19 fiscal year budget, which as Rodefer pointed out, is currently facing a deficit of more than $4 million.
“This is going to be a fiscal challenge, but we have to do it,” Rodefer said.
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 588-4530.