Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors Will Consider Licensing Cannabis Cultivation

The 13 member panel appointed in August by the Board of Supervisors to come up with recommendations on regulations for medical cannabis cultivation will propose that the county drop the current 99 plant count restriction and eliminate the requirement that growers have a direct connection with one of the 13 local dispensaries.  The Santa Cruz County Cannabis Cultivation Choices Committee (C4) will also recommend adoption of an ordinance establishing a license for small scale commercial grows no larger than 100 sq ft throughout the county with a variety of restrictions.  

They will also ask the Board to extend their term for 6 months so that they can develop additional recommendations relative to the licensing process for larger scale operations as well as manufacturing, testing, distribution and retail sales..  

The BOS will take up the matter at their regular meeting on Tuesday Dec. 8.

Current county rules prohibit the cultivation of cannabis except for personal use with a medical recommendation and provides “limited immunity” to those growing for sale in one of the 13 county dispensaries.  In both cases growers were limited to no more than 99 plants.

In March the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to effectively ban all commercial grows.  A citizen’s referendum, spearheaded by a coalition of medical cannabis advocates, prevented that ordinance from taking effect and the Board subsequently repealed it.  Since that time, a number of local growers who believed they were operating in compliance with the previous - now current - ordinance have been arrested or have seen their crops destroyed by Sheriff’s deputies.

The C4 began meeting in September with a goal of developing recommendations to create a new county ordinance that dealt with the environmental and neighborhood concerns that led to the ban while ensuring safe access to medical cannabis for county residents.  

In the meantime the State of California adopted the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA) that creates a comprehensive licensing scheme to regulate a commercial medical cannabis market from seed to sale.  

Local jurisdictions throughout California face a March 1st deadline to either expressly prohibit or regulate cannabis cultivation within their borders or the state becomes the sole licensing authority for that jurisdiction. Millions of dollars in potential revenue from licensing fees and local taxes could be at stake.  

Prior to the adoption of MMRSA, local law enforcement could seek prosecution of commercial growers under state laws even if a local jurisdiction had more permissive ordinances. If the board accepts the recommendations it will provide local growers, for the first time, the ability to operate legally if they are otherwise in compliance with state and local laws.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

Supervisor McPherson's Next "Valley Voices" Mtg Dec 2 to Focus on Hwy 17

Via Supervisor McPherson's office:

 "In 2014, there were 583 collisions with 171 injuries and three deaths on Highway 17. With that in mind,  Caltrans representatives have asked for community input for the Highway 17 “Access Management Plan” as they plan improvements for the next 25 years. The  long-range plan will have recommendations to improve access, mobility and safety needs of the highway corridor.  

The recommendations are intended to help reduce conflict points that interrupt traffic flow, causing collisions.. The effort is intended to make improvements over the next several decades, during which time traffic on the corridor is expected to increase from the approximate 54,500 current daily drivers – many of them from the San Lorenzo Valley and Scotts Valley -- to 75,000.

The management plan focuses on the 7 mile stretch from Summit Road to Granite Creek Road in Scotts Valley, where there are 59 driveways and turnoffs.

Please join Fifth District Supervisor Bruce McPherson for the next Valley Voices/Highway 17 Access workshop.
When:  7 to 8:30 p.m.,  Wednesday, Dec. 2
Where: Scotts Valley Senior Center, 370 Kings Village Road, Scotts Valley
To comment:"

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Politics of Pot Meeting Draws Large Crowd in Ben Lomond

Cooperation, Collaboration and Community Action Favored By Most

As many as 200 people came out for a public meeting in Ben Lomond Wednesday night to share their opinions and learn about new and proposed regulations around medicinal cannabis particularly as they relate to the Santa Cruz Mountains and the County in general.

The meeting began with a presentation about the new California law “The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act” (MMRSA) from Santa Cruz attorney Sasha Brodsky and Monterey film maker and executive director of the Monterey NORML, Ryan Munevar.  

A large graphic demonstrated the complexity of the new law; over a dozen types of licenses will be issued by the state, some as early as this spring*.  A variety of different state agencies will play a role in creating the rules licensees will be subject to and a Chief of the new Bureau of Medical Marijuana is being sought who will coordinate the players with a goal to be up and running by no later than Jan 2018.

The audience next heard from three members of the Santa Cruz County Cannabis Cultivation Choices Committee (C4).  This 13 member group was created by the Board of Supervisors
to come up with policy recommendations after the Board chose to rescind their most recent cannabis ordinance and revert to the previous, so called “limited immunity” rules.  

That move was the result of a citizen’s referendum calling for approval by the voters to the complete ban the Supervisors had passed 3-2 in March.

Eric Hammer, appointed to represent the 5th District by Supervisor Bruce McPherson, was first up and he outlined many of the concerns heard over the last 10 weeks of meetings.  He spoke to the need for the community to come together behind reasonable regulations so the County would retain control over how the burgeoning industry would be allowed to develop in Santa Cruz. He stressed the importance of ensuring that the environment be protected and quality of life issues addressed.
He urged the audience to express their opinions both to the committee and directly to McPherson and other Supervisors who will hold a first reading of a proposed ordinance on Dec 8th.

Ben Lomond mom, educator, and self described “homesteader” Kim Sammet of SCM2, one of the five cannabis advocacy organizations represented on the C4, spoke about the progress the committee has made.  While stressing that no final recommendations have yet been made, she said there was strong consensus against a ban and for some sort of licensing scheme.  She also said the group was unanimous in their support for dropping the plant count in favor of a grow site size measure to determine what would be permitted on various parcels.  She also expressed confidence that the committee would recommend lifting the restriction that prevented sale outside of the county.

Pat Malo a co-founder of the Cannabis Advocates Alliance and their representative on the C4, spoke about the need to protect the unique quality of the cannabis culture in Santa Cruz.  He stressed how important it is that locals stay connected and work together to leverage the value of the Santa Cruz “brand” which he said was a “world leader” in research and cultivation and well respected for the quality of the medicine produced here.  He saluted the pioneers in the collective movement like WAMM and The Veterans Alliance as well as the many smaller groups who have organized to supply medical cannabis to their member patients.

Robert Zaremba a Boulder Creek businessman and co founder of SCM2 was the last presenter and he also spoke about the need to get organized and work together in order to be able to compete with other counties who will likely permit much larger scale operations than anything contemplated in Santa Cruz.  He invited anyone interested to reach out to the SCM2 for advice on best practices.

At that point the audience was invited to offer their opinions  For the next hour a steady stream stepped up to the microphone and offered a wide range of suggestions. Many shared their concerns and personal experiences all of which were recorded for presentation later to the C4.

After everyone who wanted had an opportunity to speak, moderator Jim Coffis thanked them and invited them to stay, mingle and speak personally with any of the 6 members of the C4 plus the two consultants to the committee who were in attendance. Many took him up and small conversations took place throughout the room, some even continued outside after the hall was emptied.

The meeting was civil and respectful throughout. One member of the audience expressed surprise that there were not more younger people in attendance.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Cannabis Committee Continues to Seek Consensus on Licensing Process

The Santa Cruz County Cannabis Cultivation Choices Committee (SCCC4) meets for their 10th time Tues 9am at the Simpkins Center.  While they’ve yet to make any recommendations - the 13 members  have come to a couple of unanimous decisions including pursuing some kind of licensing scheme and signalling they are against plant counts in favor of canopy size or sq footage as a measure.- they are getting closer to crafting specific recommendations around the kinds of restrictions that should be enforced to protect neighborhoods and the environment.  

They will continue to discuss those issues and others like who can get a license and how that process might work.

They’ll also hear about a public meeting held Friday in  Bonny Doon.

The Board of Supervisors has asked for recommendations from the group as well as from County staff to be presented at their December 8th meeting

Note: There will be a public meeting in Ben Lomond Wed night 6pm at the Highlands Park Senior Center to learn more about the new state law and the progress of the C4

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Santa Cruz County Cannabis Cultivation Choices Committee (C4) Meeting Number 9

The C4 will begin the nuts and bolts work of creating recommendations to present to the Board of Supervisors at their next meeting Tuesday 9am at the Simpkins Center.

After spending most of their last meeting hearing from representatives from Community Prevention Partners on issues affecting youth and adolescents the group decided to begin focusing on reaching consensus around specific recommendations they can present to the Board of Supervisors.

The Committee has previously agreed to try and establish a framework which would provide for local licensing but they will spend their next four meetings trying to hammer out the specific parameters for such a program like where and how large such operations ought to be as well as what restrictions they would like to see imposed.

The passage of legislation in Sacramento establishing the framework for state licensing has created a greater sense of urgency for local jurisdictions to act.  On October 23rd Supervisors Leopold and McPherson requested the full board hold a public hearing on December 8th to consider an interim ordinance to license the commercial cultivation of medical cannabis.  

They’ve asked the C4 to provide recommendations for their consideration.  

No specific recommendations have yet come out of the Committee and while the 13 members have generally seemed positive about their ability to reach consensus, some have questioned whether they can do so on the existing timeline.  

It’s expected that the committee could focus on at least these issues tomorrow:

  • Repealing the current county ordinance that bans all commercial medical cannabis cultivation or processing. (7.126.030)
  • Defining the types of commercial cultivation operations
  • Determining the size(s) to be allowed and how that will be measured
  • Determine whether there should be total restrictions in any parts of the county
  • Determine whether product can be sold outside of the county
  • Determine who should get licenses, under what conditions and who will issue them

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Passion and Progress at County Cannabis Committee Meeting

The Board of Supervisors may soon get a recommendation from their citizens committee to create a clear path to legitimacy for cannabis businesses in the County.  Twenty three years after 76% of voters approved local Measure A, providing that citizens should be allowed access to medical marijuana, the County may soon make legal the process which provides the ability for patients to gain that access without having to grow and process themselves.

At the 6th meeting of the Santa Cruz County Cannabis Cultivation Choices Committee (C4) all thirteen appointees expressed agreement that their focus should be on establishing an acceptable local licensing scheme to permit commercial cannabis cultivation.  In the first vote they’ve taken to consider a specific policy recommendation the group unanimously decided to move toward a County administered licensing system that would likely include at least cultivators and processors.  They will begin working on the details at their next meeting.

In another vote the committee was split on whether or not to invite Sheriff Jim Hart to a future meeting.  After considerable discussion they decided to request that he meet privately with a sub-committee to be headed by Eric Hammer.  

As momentous as their decision to pursue licensing over other options was, the most impressive and dramatic moments of the four hour meeting came later.  After a presentation from a south county cultivator and product producer who narrated a slide show that demonstrated the high level of sophistication and expertise involved in his ten year old operation.

Near the end of his presentation he described how Sheriff’s officers raided his home and business, destroyed his crop and confiscated personal property including his phone.  He described himself as a “refugee from the war on drugs”.

His statement elicited a passionate response from committee member Pat Malo who said that people who are dedicated to producing medicine “for our parents, our friends and our community live in constant fear.  We are not all equals at this table." he said  "Some of us go to sleep each night wondering if tomorrow will be the day they come for us.”

Two of the attorneys on the committee, Rahn Garcia and Steve Premo expressed their personal appreciation for his efforts drawing applause from the rest of the committee.

Celebration and Update on Felton Library Land Nov 7

The community is invited to join the Felton Library Friends and Supervisor Bruce McPherson Sat Nov 7 at 3 pm at the Felton Fire House to honor the Verutti family and to hear about the plans for the open space and the hoped for new Felton Library.

"In addition to the new modern library building, the large property offers opportunities for creek and land restoration, an outdoor exploration area for children, native plant demonstration gardens, and a riparian walkway." 

The non-profit advocacy group will be seeking public input on these and other possibilities.
There will be music, refreshments, displays, funding updates, a presentation of ideas for the land and riparian corridor as well as a tour of the property.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

County Cannabis Committee to Discuss Local Licensing at Tues Meeting

The Santa Cruz County Cannabis Cultivation Choices Committee (C4) will consider local licensing as a way to bring county regulations into line with new state laws as they hold their 7th meeting on Tues, 9am at the Simpkins Center.

At their last meeting the committee voted to begin discussing licensing as specific policy they might recommend the Board of Supervisors consider.  The committee agreed to push back or eliminate some additional planned presentations from outside experts and county staff in order to begin substantive discussions.  

Currently all commercial cannabis cultivation is illegal in Santa Cruz County.  Some protection from prosecution exists for growers who abide by a list of restrictions.  In Sacramento new legislation has been signed that will provide growers as well as other commercial cannabis operations with state issued licenses.  Local jurisdictions can still be the ultimate arbiters as they can ban or enforce more stringent regulations than the state has prescribed.

At last Tuesday’s meeting County Consultant Eric Olsen, set the stage with his now familiar “Context for Conversation” slide shows.

He asked committee members to consider whether existing agricultural regulations are sufficient or whether there might be reasons to impose additional requirements.  He provided a list of “potential concerns” including these

  • Land conversion
  • Grading
  • Electricity usage
  • Water usage, quality, & agricultural discharges
  • Woodland & riparian habitat protection, etc.  
  • Pesticide, chemical, & worker safety
  • Seed to sale traceability
  • Cannabis is a drug
  • Youth & neighborhood protection
  • High value cash business = increased risk?
  • Diversion into black market
  • Go slow: New county standards could encourage gold rush
  • Regulatory capacity

He told the group that their initial focus should be on cultivation and offered these questions as a suggested framework for policy development:  

  • What types of cultivation should be licensed? E.g. indoor, outdoor, greenhouses
  • How much should licensees be allowed to grow?
  • Who should be eligible for licenses?
  • In what parts of the county?
  • Under what conditions?

The group then heard a presentation from Kristen Nevedahl, a Humboldt County mom and gardener who is the director of Patient Focused Certification a national project of the Americans for Safe Access Foundation.  Nevedahl’s presentation focused on the difference between regulations on the number of plants vs canopy size.  She also showed how efficient outdoor operations can reduce water requirements and have a much lower carbon footprint than indoor grows.  

Nevedahl advocated for education and training for growers, processors, and regulators.

The official notes of the meeting have not yet been published but the meeting also included the conclusion of a presentation by the industry reps on the committee as well as discussions about the allocation of Measure K funds.  

Reporting back on a committee request regarding what action the county was taking regarding aligning with the new state law, Susan Pearlman said that Supervisor Leopold was drafting a letter to the County Counsel.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Citizens’ Cannabis Group Continues Deliberations

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Cannabis Advocate to Speak at Next Meeting of C4

The Santa Cruz County Cannabis Cultivation Choices Committee (C4) departed from their published agenda last Tuesday and after hearing more presentations from county officials, focused on economic development particularly with regards to cannabis cultivation in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

At their next meeting, Tues 9am at Simpkins Center, they will consider yet another revised calendar and hear from County Staff about any steps being taken to address deadlines set for local jurisdictions included in the new State law.

The committee will also hear from Kristin Nevedal, director of the Patient Focused Certification program from Americans for Safe Access, vice chair of the Emerald Growers Association in Humboldt County and instructor at Oaksterdam University on environmental sustainability and best management practices.

At their fifth meeting the C4 heard a brief summary of the comprehensive new State laws on cannabis cultivation but continued to avoid any specific policy recommendations they intend to recommend to the Board of Supervisors by the end of the year.

The meeting included a pair of presentations by County planners Kristen Kittleson and Matt Johnson. Kittleson spoke about the effects on the watershed from erosion and runoff.  She noted that cannabis cultivation is only the latest and not the only activity that puts pressure on the ecosystem particularly the spawning of Coho and Steelhead.  She suggested the panel consider policies that focused on protecting the watershed including limiting the amount of timberland conversion, establishing appropriate buffers from creeks and streams, promoting best practices to limit pesticide and nitrate run-offs and possibly requiring a conservation plan from cultivators.

Matt Johnson, the County Environmental Planner discussed the conundrum that some of the most sensitive habitats like the sandhills are also among the most favored for outdoor cannabis cultivation.  He noted the fees associated with environmental assessments are significant and cautioned that there was a tipping point when it comes to regulations and permits that when reached causes people to work outside of the system.

Both Johnson and Kittleson agreed that there are rules and regulations currently in the County code sufficient to deal with most of the issues being discussed but that too often people ignore them.      

After a recess and in groups of three, the committee members discussed a wide variety of topics from licensing and fees to grow sizes, to approvals, inspections and enforcement.  Each group reported out a list of ideas. (Complete lists are included the meeting notes prepared by Susan Pearlman.)

There was more discussion, but no resolution, about  whether or not Sheriff Hart would be invited to share his thoughts.  Proposed local neighborhood meetings and field trips were also discussed.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

New State Marijuana Law to be Topic of 5th C4 Meeting

The Santa Cruz County Cannabis Cultivation Choices Committee (C4) could begin focusing on policy recommendations at their next meeting on Tuesday which will begin at 9 am at the Simpkins Center off of 17th St.

Since Governor Brown has now signed into law the trio of bills creating the statewide Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation the committee will review the legislation with an eye toward identifying the necessary steps that will need to be taken to bring local ordinances into line.

Also on the agenda for the fifth meeting of the 13 citizen appointees will be another “study session” this time featuring Kristen Kittleson, Resource Planner with the Fish and Wildlife Commission and Matt Johnson, County Environmental Coordinator.

After those presentations, at approximately 10:45 am, the committee will begin looking at the new comprehensive state legislation signed by Brown on Friday.

At their last meeting members tabled a discussion about whether or not to elect a chair from among their ranks but did agree to extend their meetings by an hour and requested that dedicated time be set aside at every meeting for each member to weigh in on specific policies rather than wait until late November before trying to develop any agreements.

County staff had expressed the opinion that there was no need to have a committee chair and vice chair since the county had hired a consultant to facilitate the group.  Still they intend to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that the ordinance creating the committee be amended in order to try and put an end to the idea.

The County was also advocating for a "go slow" approach contending that it would be premature to try and reach any consensus while there are still questions which could be addressed.

County consultant Eric Olsen presented his “Context for Conversation” slide presentation which began with a call for calm in order to remain focused on the mission.  He offered the following as “core”  questions the committee will need to address:

  • How do we identify which cannabis growers have been good members of our community when we know people are afraid to complain?

  • Who should be allowed to grow and sell medical cannabis, where and how?

  • How much medical cannabis should be allowed to be grown here?

The next slide offered various regulatory strategies which he followed with a list of over a dozen examples of what he called “pieces of the puzzle” that needed to be solved.  He ended with these questions:

  • What are the most urgent issues to address?

  • What are some options that we could explore to address those issues?

  • What do we need to learn more about?

Next up was County Planning Director Kathy Previsich who after explaining the role of land use planning offered her opinion that zoning would not be an effective or favored way to deal with cannabis cultivation or sales.  She suggested that permitting or certifications by an appropriate agency specifying regulations and conformance standards would be preferred.

Lively discussions followed in both small groups and with the whole committee around a variety of suggestions like creating a permitting system, identifying the current applicable regulations which could be enforced and the possibility of creating an entirely new agency,  Many committee members believed that the Sheriff’s office was not the appropriate agency to govern cannabis cultivation.