It was a marathon virtual meeting for the El Dorado County Planning Commission Thursday as it took up a number of agenda items, with the one attracting the most attention a revision of the county’s ordinance governing the growing of marijuana.
Designed to make the county’s ordinance consistent with state law, Deputy County Counsel Breann Moebius emphasized that the proposed amendments would apply only to the personal use of cannabis and not to commercial grows.
In response to an outgrowth of problems enforcing the existing ordinance and abuse by those who supply cannabis to the black market, the proposed amendments would limit adults to indoor or outdoor grows of no more than six plants per residence for either medicinal or recreational use.
The ordinance would no longer make a distinction between medicinal and recreational use by adults older than 21 and would impose consistent regulations for all cannabis grown for personal use.
The ordinance would also maintain the regulations regarding screening, setbacks, odor control, security, residency requirements and property owner authorization.
In the discussion that followed, county staff as well as the public contributed different opinions on the issue. El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini noted that while law enforcement had input on the issue, he felt that it had not been listened to in its efforts to keep the community and his staff safe. D’Agostini said there has been an “explosion” in illegal marijuana grows in the county but the proposed changes to the ordinance would make it easier to enforce its provisions.
El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson said the original ordinance made the county seem “marijuana friendly,” adding the county may have “erred on the side of openness.”
Mexican nationals originally set up grows on Bureau of Land Management property but organized crime syndicates have now moved into residential neighborhoods, according to Pierson. The marijuana market itself generates risks whether legal or illegal because of the money involved, Pierson explained. He said in this county there have been three homicides associated with legal marijuana grows.
Pierson recommended the amendments be adopted, noting that he thinks they will help “dampen the black market.”
D’Agostini said county code enforcement would handle most enforcement initially with law enforcement doing “the heavy lifting if there was a violation” or “if their safety is an issue.”
Based on preliminary data D’Agostini estimated thousands of grows are in violation of the existing ordinance.
To help identify illegal grows, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors recently approved a contract with a company to take satellite images of the county five times a year. The three-year contract for $491,826 is with a firm that did similar work for Humboldt County. The satellite imagery will be forwarded to code enforcement and law enforcement to take action.
Not everyone appreciated the changes to the ordinance with several members of the public calling in to ask that the ordinance be left as is, especially those who said they need cannabis for medical purposes.
Kelly Chiusano, who runs a dispensary called Pure Life Collective in Diamond Springs, suggested that the ordinance include options to appeal the code and to apply for a variance. Rod Miller, the legislative director of the El Dorado County Growers Alliance, encouraged the county to focus instead on fixing the commercial cannabis system, calling regulations “excessive.”
Moebius went on to remind everyone that there continues to exist a conflict between state and federal law with California making cannabis legal while the federal government considers it a Schedule 1 drug.
In the discussion that followed, Commissioner James Williams suggested that the revised ordinance, if ultimately approved by the Board of Supervisors, be reviewed in a year. The commission then unanimously adopted the amended ordinance including the recommendation that it be reviewed in a year. The amended ordinance now goes to the Board of Supervisors for a first reading tentatively scheduled for April 24 and a vote on its passage May 10.