A Tale of Two Counties: Fresno Balks But El Dorado Listens

December 2 – At a hearing this morning in Fresno, county supervisors discussed making proposed changes to their total cultivation ban, including allowing 12-plant gardens, appointing an impartial hearing officer to hear appeals to abatement proceedings and fines, and adjusting the level of fines.

Two locals testified during the hearing: Michael Green of the Fresno Cannabis Assn. and Atty Brenda Linder. Sheriff Mims, whose office had told county counsel a 12-plant exemption would not “hinder their work in the field” rose at the meeting to say she opposed the exemption and also opposed the appointment of a hearing officer. Some of the board members objected to relinquishing their responsibility to hear appeals; costs were also discussed.

The board voted unanimously to direct county counsel only to finalize clean-up language he proposed for the ordinance, and not address the other suggestions. Chairman Borgeas noted at the end that some members thought the board should delay the vote until next year after two new members are seated; he closed the hearing saying that the idea of a hearing officer would be revisited next year.

The meeting can be heard online here (starts about an hour in).

Later today, in front of a packed house, and after hours of testimony from at least 50 El Dorado residents and patients & caregivers from neighboring counties, El Dorado county supervisors voted not to repeal the county’s cultivation ordinance and instead appoint a task force consisting of county counsel, the sheriff, DA and activists to come up with a solution that will protect patients’ rights.

Lame duck supervisor Ron Briggs brought forth the motion to repeal the existing ordinance, and was on the news saying that ordinance 5000, passed unanimously in September 2013, was tantamount to putting up a “Weed Friendly” sign in the county, attracting out-of-state growers, who the sheriff said make up 7/10 of his arrestees this year. The current ordinance, which was developed by a working group made up of law enforcement and activists, allows up to 600 square feet of plant canopy (on 20 acres or more) and has been held up as a model for the rest of the state.

The session opened with a strange Reefer Madness-style video from sheriff D’Agostini alleging that the “Normalization of deviance” is related to the demise of the Sierra Fisher due to rodenticides used in marijuana cultivation. It stated that The Emerald Triangle has been “devastated by industrial-scale marijuana growing; forests have been clearcut illegally, mountaintops removed…The cycle of life has become a horrible cycle of death….These cultivators devour our water supply, pollute and dimish our precious waterways…” As the drug trafficking organizations move closer to schools, it continued, youth are becoming “normalized” to the use of marijuana. It ended, “We must restore the normalized and traditional values of our grandparents and parents in El Dorado county.”

But at least four of the supervisors seemed more swayed by the many patients who came forward and expressed their fear of being criminalized by the repeal of the ordinance. It was pointed out that the large grows in the video were all out of compliance with the current ordinance, and that the out-of-code buildings that were shown were built before the current ordinance was enacted.

After the patient testimony, DA Worth Dikeman surprised the board by announcing he’d issued prosecutorial guidelines, and that he’d given them to “the guy from the Sacramento Bee” (Peter Hecht, who dutifully took notes throughout but had left by then, as had the sheriff).

Finally, county counsel Robyn Drivon spoke up, saying, “There’s somewhere else we could go that gets the problem solved.” She expressed willingness to head a committee made up of the sheriff, and DA. When board chair Norma Santiago formed this into a motion, she added the activist members of the working group that had written the existing ordinance. Even Briggs came around in the end, saying he’d vote with the majority.

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