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Could Placer County ‘mom and pop’ medpot grows stay?

By: Gus Thomson of the Auburn Journal
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Mirroring a moving regulatory target since state Proposition 54 was passed by voters Nov. 8 legalizing recreational marijuana use, Placer County supervisors agreed Tuesday to look more closely at the possibility of aligning with state regulations to allow commercial “cottage” medpot grows.

The closer look would come in the form of a committee bringing together groups as disparate as growers and school districts to study possible expansion of the type of medicinal cannabis grows allowed in the county to include the so-called cottage industry. State legislators adopted a cottage industry category for medical marijuana grows this past year that allows 25 plants outdoors.

Agricultural Commissioner Joshua Huntsinger told the board that Assembly Bill 2516 gained traction and eventual approval because of an outcry over commercialization of the medpot industry under new laws that some feared would see “the big guy squeezing out the little guy.”

With all four supervisors present assenting to formation of a committee, Chairman Robert Weygandt said the understanding would be for staff to prepare a report on how a committee would be established and what entities would be in it. Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery was absent. The state law – which can be over-ridden by cities or counties – also allows licensed cottage growers to have indoor grow areas of up to 500 square feet or a greenhouse covering 2,500 square feet.

While the committee is being formed, the county is moving forward to have an ordinance in place by the end of the year allowing limited cultivation, both indoors and outdoors for personal use in unincorporated areas but limiting grows to 50 square feet. With the passage of Prop. 54, indoor recreational grows of up to 50 square feet are to be allowed in Placer County. Supervisors were told that the limit for a combination recreational and medical cannabis grow in one house would still be 50 square feet.

Initial approval of the ordinance Tuesday came on a 4-0 vote and county staff will be working on zoning changes to allow but regulate outdoor medicinal cannabis grows in rural areas. Plans are to have regulations discussed and possibly in place by the start of the area’s growing season in April to provide for 50-square-foot plots. Regulations would provide rules on setbacks from lot lines and nearby houses.

Because of previous state cases establishing precedent, the county is no longer limiting grows by the number of plants. At a meeting earlier this month, supervisors had requested that a six-plant ceiling be placed on medpot grows. Instead, square footage is being used as the main regulator.

With regulations on grows in place by the spring, county Building Division Manager Tim Wegner said that plans are to hire six code enforcement officers on an as-needed basis at an estimated cost of $305,000 for startup and annual ongoing costs of $610,000.

The cost figure spurred Supervisor Jim Holmes to request a committee to look at cottage grows as well as fees to recoup some of the money being spent on enforcement. But the possibility of taxing growers remained a moot point, with at least two supervisors – Weygandt and Kirk Uhler – expressing little or no support.

“I’ve no interest in doing this for generating revenue,” Weygandt said. “But I think we should talk about these things, especially with our city partners.”

Supervisor Jack Duran said the board may not have 100 percent agreement but is hitting a “sweet spot” that provides opportunities for marijuana access while addressing safety concerns.

“As I said in June (during previous discussions on outdoor cannabis grows, when supervisors moved for a complete ban), if you’re not for regulation, you’re for lawlessness,” Duran said.

Richard Miller, director of education and outreach for A Therapeutic Alternative, told supervisors that allowing the “mom and pop” cottage growers to remain would allow rarer strains of cannabis to continue to be available instead of being wiped out by larger “mono strains” bigger companies would bring in.

County estimates are that Placer has between 4,000 and 6,000 cannabis grows.

“It would keep the ma and pa businesses operating,” he said.