The Observer: Pot talk

I’m sure most of you are as weary reading or lisening to anything dealing with pot in this county as I am writing or talking about it. This past week, the Anderson Valley Advertiser carried this item:

Former Supervisor John McCowen writes:

In what amounts to a bait and switch, Supervisors Haschak and Williams recommend opening up every neighborhood to dramatically expanded cannabis cultivation.

On Monday January 25, in line with previous direction, the Board will consider a proposed land use based permitting system for cannabis cultivation.

Unfortunately, Supervisor Williams and Haschak are taking the opportunity to overturn previous Board direction and eliminate every meaningful protection for neighborhoods.

If this passes in it’s current form it will throw every residential neighborhood under the bus by allowing 12 outdoor plants without setbacks.

The original version posted with the agenda (the “bait”) kept the current exemptions and setbacks in place. These restrictions were hammered out over the last 10+ years and were intended to allow for the legal cultivation of cannabis without tearing neighborhoods apart.

The “Final Draft” (the “switch”) was posted last night and eviscerated the restrictions in the exemptions and threw out the setbacks, substantially eliminating protections for residential neighborhoods.

In place of 100 square feet grown indoors with setbacks from property lines and residences, anyone who can claim 2 exemptions will now be able to grow 12 plants of any size (some “plants” exceed 15′ in height and 150 square feet of canopy) outdoors right under someone’s bedroom window.

It’s baffling to me why Supervisors Williams and Haschak are proposing to throw out these carefully crafted neighborhood protections and open the door to renewed neighborhood conflict.

I was initially very impressed by how faithfully the proposed ordinance follows Board direction to craft a land use based permit system that allows for expansion as well as permits in Rangeland, subject to a land use permit.

I know the issues of expansion and new permits in Rangeland are controversial but that is where the discussion should take place.

Without Board direction Supervisors Williams and Haschak have opened up issues that have been debated and decided multiple times with the same result every time.

I’m concerned that this backdoor attempt to undermine existing neighborhood protections will distract from and possibly jeopardize the need to enact critical reforms needed to put the industry on a sustainable footing in Mendocino County.

This ploy may succeed but at the cost of residential quality of life and a sustainable cannabis industry.

The expressed goal of the board was to move scaled commercial cultivation into ag appropriate zones. The Phase 3 ordinance does that thoughtfully, and with discretionary review. The goal was not to violate personal rights, or contradict state law.

Mark Scaramella comments:

This subject has become tiresome and the legalization problems seem intractable. This looks like yet another attempt to fix the problem by tweaking the current local rules. Mendo continues to thrash around trying to find some way through the pot reg maze, much of which McCowen created. I think Williams and Haschak probably mean well and have no intention of creating some kind of neo-green rush (over the one already in place). McCowen is kinda paranoid on this subject, always has been. It has driven his approach to hyper regulation for years and is largely the reason we are where we are. McCowen, like Ellen Drell and Dennis Slota, et al, objects to any relaxation of the rules which are his (and their) baby. At the moment almost all growers are illegal for pot cultivation rule violations or other site-related permit violations. Look at Rays Road in Philo. Does anyone think that anything Mendo proposes for pot regs will make any difference there — or in Covelo for that matter? The Sheriff has made it clear that minor unpermitted grows which don’t do much environmental damage and don’t bother the neighbors much are such low priority as to be equivalent to legal. To be legal, growers still have to comply with a mind-numbing array of state regs and requirements no matter what Mendo does. My guess is that Williams and Haschak are trying to make it easier for small growers, which McCowen & Co. see as a large “opening up.” Who knows if it will? Small growers will still have a hard time getting legal, even if McCowen’s precious rules are weakened. But it’s hard to tell from the proposed new regs themselves because nobody really knows how any of this will play out. I’d like to hear Jim Shields’ opinion on this rather than trying to analyze the particulars of this latest proposal, which may or may not even materialize.

***

This is an easy one to referee. Scaramella pierces the veil thinly covering what is mostly a minor issue submerged under what McCowen describes as “critical reforms needed to put the industry on a sustainable footing in Mendocino County.”

What is McCowen referring to?

I’ve writen about it previously but here’s a summary.

At a meeting this past October, the Board of Supervisors gave the provisional go-ahead to expand pot cultivation in Mendocino County despite opposition from the Sheriff, environmentalists, and ranchers.

By a 4-to-1 vote, the Board conditionally OK’d numerous new provisions for a proposed Ordinance that will allow cultivation to occur on a minimum parcel size of 10 acres or larger up to 10 percent of the total parcel area. For example, a 600-acre parcel could have up to 60 acres of cultivated weed, or 100 acres of pot could be grown on a 1,000 acre parcel.

To his credit, Third District Supervisor John Haschak was the lone dissenter, explaining he had “serious concerns about” the expansion because “that’s going to really devastate the small growers. The range land, you know, we heard from the Sheriff, environmental groups, ranchers that are against it. There’s not a work plan to move this (forward) so I’m going to vote no.”

Sheriff Matt Kendall told the Supes there’s an abundance of marijuana in the county already and it was a mistake to open up new growing areas, especially on range land, when “we can’t control the areas” now under cultivation. However, Supes John McCowen, Ted Williams, Dan Gjerde, and Carre Brown favored the “bigger-is-better-for-the- county’s-economy” pot cultivation model.

McCowen argued that unless pot cultivation was allowed to expand, the County’s economic viability was threatened.

Kendall is the second Sheriff to object to opening up range land to pot farming. In 2018, then-Sheriff Tom Allman urged the Board to allow voters to decide the controversial issue of introducing pot cultivation on range land.

“I hate to inform people that the dirty truth is this is about greed and not about cannabis … I think the voters should decide … It’s almost an end-run around the General Plan, and the General Plan needs to be evaluated.”

Speaking of Allman’s reference to greed, weed industry heavyweights such as Henry’s Original and Flow Kana argue in favor of the “10 percent rule,” using nearly the identical language that was approved by the Supes. Must be great minds do think alike.

Seriously, isn’t there enough pot being grown in this county already?

Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, and is also the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org

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