County pot vote pushed to November

Supervisors say county not prepared to manage ordinance

Cannabis plants

Calling their existing medical cannabis policy a mess, county legislators Tuesday decided to defer a vote on proposed rules for cultivation and manufacturing operations to November.

“I personally have developed major reservations about moving forward with this medical marijuana ordinance or policy,” San Benito County Supervisor Robert Rivas said during their regular meeting. “Don’t get me wrong. I want to make this ordinance work, but as a county we’re just not prepared. When you look at the urgency ordinance we passed 11 months ago—the amortization clause—it’s a mess.”

This is the second time this summer county policymakers postponed voting on the ordinance. In July, the item was delayed after residents complained about water and a proposed boundary line for cultivation in the southern area of the county.

The supervisors approved an urgency ordinance in September 2016 to get a handle on illegal cannabis grow operations that had sprouted up throughout the county.

Called the amortization clause because it provided limited immunity from prosecution to operations who put in an application with the county, nearly a year later there are 27 applicants awaiting processing.

The ordinance was supposed to halt all new cultivation operations within the county with  immunity ending in December last year, but county staff revealed in April that applicants who continued to cultivate beyond that cut-off date are not in violation of county code until the board determines the status of their application.

Because of the amount of applicants, the county needs to hire a public hearing officer, which has not yet happened.  

“We’ve lost control,” Rivas said. “It wasn’t properly managed. So I don’t believe we are in the position to properly manage this full time ordinance.”

Pinnacle Strategy President Victor Gomez, currently contracted with the county to help draft the cannabis ordinance, addressed concerns about the amortization clause.

“We did have a meeting last week,” Gomez said. “We are making headway on that process. You’re scheduled to review a potential contract for a hearing officer and we will be prepared. After vetting these applications fully with County Counsel, code enforcement, the sheriff and myself, we will be prepared for the public hearing.”

San Benito County Sheriff Darren Thompson spoke on the problem of illegal grows proliferating through the county.

“The effort we made last year backfired a bit,” Thompson said. “There’s been plenty of discussion about that today. I understand you’re considering actions and I can tell you with any regulatory scheme, staff is necessary to implement and enforce the regulation. Much of that responsibility would fall on the staff of the sheriff’s office.”

Staffing levels have dropped in recent years, explained Thompson. The department was funded for 96 positions in 2010 and by 2012 was down to funding for only 46 positions, he said.

“I would encourage this board to move cautiously, to bring much needed clarity to our community, to your staff and to consider the length of time it takes for us to establish the staffing levels before you make any further decisions.”

Officials said they could start issuing civil notice of violations to illegal grow operations in order to stop cultivation.

“We are going to proceed with notices of violation on all illegal sites,” County Counsel Barbara Thompson said. “There’s nothing stopping the county from issuing notices on all sites that are illegal in the county at this time. That’s our goal. We’re going to hit it with code enforcement.”

Supervisor Medina explained the process further.

“If there are illegal grows out there and an abatement notice is on their door today, they have approximately seven days to comply,” Medina said. “If we go back out there and they haven’t complied, they’re charged $1,000 a day. Then we go to the courthouse.”

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