Two hundred, 400 or 600 square feet per qualified garden is the new medicinal cannabis law in El Dorado County. Ordinance 5000 was passed by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday after nearly six hours of testimony, discussion and deliberation. The ordinance officially takes effect 30 days from now. During the same session, the board also adopted an ordinance to limit the number of medical marijuana dispensaries to the five or six establishments currently operating legally within the county.
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County supervisors have sought to standardize and regulate the cultivation of medical marijuana since they adopted two “urgency” moratoria in October 2011. By law, the moratoria would have expired as of Oct. 1 and Oct. 31 respectively, thereby throwing the issue back into a kind of legal limbo. The new cultivation ordinance now permits individuals with qualifying medical documentation to grow enough cannabis for their own personal, medicinal needs on property in the unincorporated areas of the county.
Because the ordinance is based on the county’s zoning laws, the square footage per garden is determined by the size of the parcel. Property of an acre or less, therefore, is allowed 200 square feet of cultivation area. Five acres or more may use 400 square feet while 20 acres or more can have a maximum of 600 square feet under cultivation. Not more than three qualified individuals may participate per parcel under the ordinance. This determination in the ordinance drew considerable opposition from Tuesday’s audience and is likely to be one of the issues revisited when supervisors evaluate the effectiveness of the new policy in six months.
The opposing arguments noted that every patient’s needs are different and that theoretically the harvest from 200 square feet could supply the annual medicinal needs of even 10 or 20 individuals. Likewise, many patients are physically unable to share in the actual gardening but could benefit from the labor of one or two more capable participants.
Setbacks were established at 50 feet on the smaller plots and 100 feet on the 400 and 600 square foot units.
Supervisors opted to include language restricting the location of gardens to not less than 1,000 feet from a school, school bus stop, church or other “youth-oriented” facility. The property must be fenced and secured and the garden must be otherwise screened from view by additional fencing, plants or trees, buildings or other structures. Some concerns regarding redundant fencing devolved into a determination that if a perimeter fence were locked, secured and screened in some way, an interior fence surrounding the garden would not be required.
El Dorado County Sheriff’s Capt. Andrew Wishart, representing Sheriff John D’Agostini, told supervisors they were “heading in the right direction” balancing compassion with citizen’s rights. He said the ordinances “help us with compliance” and while the sheriff “would like banning dispensaries,” the restrictions on new ones were acceptable. He also pushed for secure fencing and screening saying, “We do have grows that attract a criminal element.”
The original moratoria passed in 2011 were a direct result of residents’ complaints and law enforcement’s frustrations with illegal cultivation and accompanying criminal activities. At that time, numerous citizens told horror stories of being threatened by unknown, heavily armed men patrolling large marijuana farms in more remote areas of the county including on National Forest land. Heavy vehicle traffic during nighttime hours to and from certain cultivated areas, discharging of firearms and general menacing behavior and a pervasive noxious odor in some neighborhoods was cited as evidence of the need for restrictive and enforceable legislation regarding cultivation of marijuana.
“The primary thrust of this ordinance is to allow the sheriff’s department to eradicate the grows we don’t want,” Chairman Ron Briggs explained during the hearing.
Along with regulations regarding use of pesticides, non-pollution of waterways and air quality, the ordinance demands that there be an inhabited residence on the property and that the resident must be the cultivator of record. In the event the resident is a renter, there must be documentation on file from the property owner that the resident is authorized to engage in the cultivation of medicinal cannabis within the strictures of the ordinance.
A section was included in the ordinance for “administrative relief” to allow the county to grant some sort of waiver of certain elements in order to resolve “unique circumstances” that could arise. One example cited named John Barrett, a frequent speaker on medical marijuana at supervisors meetings. Due to multiple sclerosis, Barrett is confined to a wheelchair. Therefore he requires a wider space between the plants in his garden and the 200 or 400 square foot maximum could unduly restrict his cultivation and access to his medication.
Briggs introduced a previously unmentioned caveat to the discussion relative to the number of people who can be served by the typical garden — that is, the county’s road system and the potential for increased traffic (from 10 to 20 participants).
“We don’t have a lot of roads,” Briggs said. “People live at the end of meandering roads and may be victims of whatever happens at the front of the roads. Bad guys are hiding behind the legal, legitimate users.”
That notion was addressed by another speaker who explained that very few if any additional participants would be regular visitors to the garden and therefore would not create a significant impact on the roads.
“Ordinances are living documents,” Briggs reiterated prior to the final votes. “We’ll probably be back in six months changing this.”
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected] Follow @CDaleyMtDemo