Fencing, security cameras, generator requirements, fingerprints, background checks, setbacks and lighting at legal commercial cannabis farms were among the topics five elected Calaveras County supervisors wrestled with Tuesday.

Elected leaders and staff spent most of Tuesday morning and Tuesday afternoon hashing out details of how to regulate cannabis cultivation, trying to craft a new law that could replace the current countywide ban on commercial cannabis activities.

A great deal of their focus was on what didn’t work for a year-and-a-half, from May 2016 to February 2018, when commercial cannabis farms were temporarily legalized under an urgency ordinance that helped spark a “green rush” for cultivable land and changed the character of many post-Butte Fire Calaveras County neighborhoods.

“I’d like the grows secured,” Sheriff Rick DiBasilio told the Board of Supervisors at one point approaching 3 p.m. “We don’t want to see kids going in and trying to steal marijuana.”

Ben Stopper, District 5 supervisor, said he could go up to any fence with a pair of bolt cutters and get inside it. DiBasilio acknowledged marijuana farm fencing should be viewed as a deterrent, not an impregnable, hard-line security measure.

“As long as it’s secure I’ll be happy with it,” DiBasilio said.

Peter Maurer, the county planning director, said what the county doesn’t want is a situation where people can just walk right in.

“Cultivators should be happy with it,” said Merita Callaway, District 3 supervisor. “It could be a wood fence, that looks nice. The state requires security cameras. Whether it’s fence that keeps a deer out or keeps a neighbor out, kids can go buy it in front of Bret Harte High School, why would they go steal it? It should be a fence, metal, wood or field fence, and they’re going to have to have security cameras. We want to limit the eyesore. It was a terrible eyesore throughout the county before.”

Gary Tofanelli, District 1 supervisor, said he supports fencing but he asked the same question, would it be adequate for security? Maurer said again marijuana farm fencing is supposed to be a deterrent.

Many questions were not fully answered. The board went line-by-line through parts of a draft ordinance put together by county staff, and line-by-line through county staff recommendations, often comparing staff recommendations with existing state requirements.

Tuesday was another step in a process that is not yet finished. A draft ordinance will have to go before the planning commission before it can be brought back to the Board of Supervisors for a final vote.

Dennis Mills, District 4 supervisor, Jack Garamendi, District 2 supervisor, Tofanelli, Callaway and Stopper worked off a list of questions and assertions from county staff, including that the majority of the current board wants a regulatory ordinance.

Other points the supervisors and county staff worked from Tuesday included that only previously registered cultivators who were in good standing at the time the ban became effective and had a temporary license from the state will be eligible to apply to grow when a new ordinance becomes effective.

County staff summations for a new ordinance included:

  • No permanent residence will be required on parcels containing outdoor/mixed light cultivation sites, but all structures must meet building and health and safety codes and permits must be finaled on all structures before a cannabis permit will be issued.

  • Camping and use of recreational vehicles will be prohibited except as permitted in County Code.

  • Outdoor cultivation of a maximum six plants for personal use may be permitted with setbacks, suggested at 150 yards to minimize odors. Minimum setback under the urgency ordinance for commercial cultivation was 75 feet.

Once the Board of Supervisors and staff finish their study session, staff hope to have enough direction from the board to prepare a draft ordinance that meets requirements of the majority of the board. Following preparation of a draft ordinance, a California Environmental Quality Act document will need to be prepared and hearings will then be scheduled before the county Planning Commission, followed by an adoption hearing or hearings with the Board of Supervisors.

According to county staff, a fee will need to be established to cover costs of the regulatory program. The fee can only be used for the program and cannot exceed its costs. Any shortfall would have to come from the general fund.

The previous urgency ordinance allowing commercial cannabis activities was adopted by the Board of Supervisors in May 2016, and it added Chapter 17.95 to the Calaveras County Code, regulating medical cannabis cultivation and commercial uses involving medical cannabis. The urgency ordinance expired in February 2018. All cultivation authorized under the urgency ordinance was supposed to cease June 7, 2018.

Tuesday was the board’s second cannabis ordinance study session so far this year. The first was in February. Back then the board directed staff to prepare a regulatory ordinance and the board and staff began a discussion of the contents of that ordinance. Because of the complexity of the issues and the length of time the session was taking, the board directed staff to return at a later date with a revised list of staff questions from the affected departments.

If the Board of Supervisors adopts a new ordinance legalizing commercial cannabis activities, it will represent a 180-degree turn from where the county’s elected leaders were 16 months ago, when they split 3-2 on the vote to ban commercial cannabis activities in Calaveras County.

November’s election results changed the makeup of the Board of Supervisors and the new board is now grappling with one of the most divisive issues in county history.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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