Mono County discovers regulating pot is a lot more complicated than the State made it seem…
At the May 8 meeting of the Mono County Supervisors, 2nd District Supervisor Fred Stump told the story of a marijuana grow near Benton that had moved him to change his views on the subject.
The grow he described is in its second year and, contrary to a circulating rumor, is not on tribal land. It is, however, on a rural residential parcel with no dwelling unit, for which the operator does not have a permit from the county to allow for small-scale agriculture. The county issued a permit for temporary power use to the growers in 2016, for growing trees.
Last year the grow operation had 60 plants, and this year it has 300, according to Stump. In recent months, Stump said the neighbors have complained about the smell, the Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office have taken reports on the grow, Code Compliance has issued a Notice of Violation and Southern California Edison has disconnected the electricity. Nonetheless, the operation persists.
The grow is less than a quarter mile from the Edna Beaman Elementary School.
On May 5, an attorney representing the growers contacted the county, arguing that state law, which allows “caregivers” to grow pot wherever they wish, supercedes county regulations. Caregivers grow for medical marijuana patients that can’t grow for themselves.
“The growers are currently going about their business and appear to be throwing this in the county’s face,” Stump said. He added his constituents are asking what good codes and regulations are if there are loopholes and ways around the laws.
“What this situation is pointing out to me is how woefully unprepared we are to deal with marijuana,” Stump said. He foresaw untold amounts of staff time used to deal with regulation and worried that this current situation that could lead to civil action.
“[I am] Quickly moving my position from regulate and tax to banning all commercial operations in the county,” Stump said. “This has ceased to a be a philosophical question and is now having a direct impact on District 2 residents. I’ll say that if you are a commercial marijuana proponent, this is exactly what you don’t need if you want to see the county move forward with a regulatory set.”
Dr. Dale Gieringer, Executive Director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), California Chapter said the county can argue its rules supersede state law and ban marijuana in the county altogether, but warned that other counties, like Fresno, that have banned weed are facing mounting lawsuits from growers and medical marijuana patients.
Additionally, the state does not provide clear guidelines for caregivers as to what constitutes “medical use” and how much of a given crop will actually go to patients, Gieringer said.
Michael Draper, Mono County planning analyst, said the situation in Benton is a zoning issue. The growers did not have a permit for a commercial grow, which would apply to any crop, whether apples or marijuana. The regulations are spelled out in the county’s General Plan, and include the definition of a commercial grow, as well as what constitutes a large and small scale grow. To find these regulations, a grower would have to dig through the General Plan. Even Draper had to wade through the plan to find the definition of small scale agriculture.