Proposed outdoor pot ban has all sides firing

Photo Courtesy of United Narcotics Enforcement Team A UNET raid on this location along Panoche Road in Paicines yielded 2,762 plants with a value of about $2.7 million.

Supervisor Margie Barrios pointed to recent cases involving illegal marijuana-growing operations here in making the case to outlaw any local cultivation of legal pot, too.
“We have had concerns anyway in some of the cultivation that is going on,” she said.
She acknowledged she was referring to illegal activity—as in recent pot-growing busts in unincorporated areas of the county such as two cases involving marijuana plants found hidden in corn crops.
“What it is—we wanted to make sure that San Benito County can have a handle on it, whether legal or illegal,” she said. “We don’t want any cultivation going on in San Benito County.”
Barrios also sounded the alarm in claiming modern marijuana sends children to hospitals. She referred to “chemicals being infused into marijuana” and warned how children can steal marijuana from plants in back yards of medical cardholders.
“Back in the day, you could smoke, and the next day you’d be fine,” Barrios said. “More and more kids end up in hospitals.”
Barrios and Supervisor Anthony Botelho make up a subcommittee recommending the outdoor growing ban to the full county board at Tuesday’s 9 a.m. meeting at the County Administration Building, 481 Fourth St.
It would move the county further from the state’s direction on marijuana legalization, as California voters in 2016 could consider a measure to legalize the plant for recreational use on top of the currently allowed medical purpose, permitted for nearly two decades.  
Such marijuana restrictions would represent a rare break from the county’s tradition as a political bellwether on most major topics of interest, as locals at the polls often agree with statewide voters when it comes to ballot measures, governors and most contentious political issues.
San Benito County already has an anti-cannabis reputation with separate zoning bans against all medical marijuana dispensaries in Hollister and unincorporated county areas.
The county’s proposed ordinance, at least partly in response to a now-defunct dispensary along Highway 25 that continued to grow pot even recently while spreading a pungent smell across the neighboring commuter road, would ban outdoor cultivation altogether in all unincorporated areas. The law would include a two-year amortization period for existing cultivation sites that can prove they have been growing.
The county would join another one in recently taking a bold step against growers. San Joaquin County in May became the first in California to outlaw all marijuana cultivation—outdoor or indoor—in unincorporated areas, according to the Stockton Record.
Although the state as a whole supports the medical marijuana industry and recreational use—53 percent of Californians favored it with 45 percent opposed in a recent Public Policy Institute of California poll—some rural pockets have held out, said Dale Sky Jones, chairwoman of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform helping to push the recreational effort. In getting the word out on prospects for legalization, she said many traditionally conservative areas have eventually embraced it.
“There is a distinct and clear opportunity for these rural communities to see benefits from controlled taxation,” she said.
Sky Jones responded to Barrios’ argument about kids’ safety—calling it the “children’s battle cry” from marijuana opponents—and referred to such statements as fear mongering.
“I’d like to just point out that the current policy has entirely failed and has not kept it away from kids,” she said.
Sky Jones queried, “What children actually got harmed from outdoor agricultural grows?” 
She pointed out how since Colorado implemented legalization of recreational marijuana, the state had experienced a reduction in driving under the influence cases, suicides in young men and heroin use.
The Oakland-based Sky Jones, chancellor of Oaksterdam University, the self-proclaimed first cannabis college in America, questioned the correlation with illegal pot cultivation and legal use.
“They’re pointing to the illegal grows insisting that they have to keep everything illegal,” Sky Jones said. “Where is the legal market then?”
Robert Rivas, one of the county supervisors set to make a call on the matter Tuesday, said he wasn’t decided on the proposed ordinance as of Monday evening. Rivas told the Free Lance he generally has a “wait-and-see approach” to the statewide issue of marijuana legalization.
“I’m short on the details of what’s really driving this,” Rivas said.
He said he was looking forward to Tuesday’s report.
“They’re very quick to act on it,” Rivas said of the proposed urgency ordinance. “It’s kind of a surprise to me.”
Although Barrios acknowledged the former Purple Cross dispensary along Highway 25 was a factor, she contended childhood safety was her biggest concern.
Asked about patients of illnesses such as cancer who may have to bear the burden of additional costs, and Barrios suggested those people could form a cooperative and grow indoors.
“They will find a way to do it,” she said. “But that is the way we’re going to regulate it and keep the public safe and avoid the nuisance.”
She said with backyard growing, the smell is always there to entice children.
“For me, my whole thing on this is kids,” she said. “It’s not adults. Adults can do whatever they want.”

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