The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday repealed an ordinance that banned the commercial cultivation of cannabis, leaving in place restrictions that allow the growth of up to 99 plants on large, rural parcels.
The 4-1 vote came after opponents of the rules collected more than enough signatures to place the repeal on an upcoming ballot. Rather than spend taxpayer dollars on an election, the Board chose to repeal the ordinance and allow a task force charged with drawing up new rules work on solutions that work for all County residents.
“It’s an opportunity to engage both the public and the cultivators in developing a policy that works best for everyone in the community,” Supervisor John Leopold said. “We have a chance to become a model for the rest of California.”
The Board has established a 13-member Cannabis Cultivation Choices Committee, which includes expertise from a range of viewpoints. Working through mid-December, the committee will look at land-use solutions that meet the needs of medical marijuana providers and addresses neighborhood quality-of-life issues.
“I’m hopeful that the committee can help us achieve community consensus by finding common-sense, workable solutions to well-documented concerns,” Supervisor Zach Friend said.
While the committee’s schedule is still to be determined, it will be facilitated by Eric Olsen, a former chief of staff to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture during President Clinton’s administration.
“We want to hear from all of the stakeholders in Santa Cruz County who care about or who have been impacted by medical cannabis cultivation. When we sit down at a common table together as neighbors and fellow community members, we are confident that we can reach agreement on a medical cannabis cultivation policy that reflects and strengthens the values and aspirations of Santa Cruz County,” Olsen said.
County elections officials estimated a vote would have cost taxpayers $400,000 for a special election, or $200,000 if held during the June 2016 primary election.
Tuesday’s vote was part of the County’s ongoing effort to address the scope of medical marijuana delivery in the County. The County has implemented successful, industry supported-dispensary regulations that limit dispensary locations and standardize business practices.
In the absence of state guidelines, local governments across California have struggled to regulate in the arena of medical marijuana, which has strong voter support but is also illegal under federal law and can have devastating consequences for the environment when irresponsible growers clear-cut land, use dangerous pesticides and divert precious water from local streams.