Mendocino County supervisors on Tuesday narrowly voted to quadruple the number of medical marijuana plants that can be grown legally on a parcel of land, but only with a permit that requires law enforcement scrutiny.
The ordinance amendment, which allows up to 99 plants per parcel if growers apply for a variance to the county's 25 plant limit, split both the Board of Supervisors and medical marijuana advocates.
"What you guys have come up with here is excellent," said Matthew Cohen, executive director of Northstone Organics Cooperative, a Ukiah medical marijuana cooperative.
Other marijuana advocates view the entire ordinance as an illegal and inappropriate infringement on patients' rights to grow marijuana.
"I can't think of any other agricultural commodity regulated by nuisance laws," said Dale Gieringer, of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He noted the county's ordinance has been threatened with litigation.
The amendment was designed to consider the needs of cooperatives that serve people who can't grow their own pot. Individuals continue to be limited to 12 immature or six mature plants. The ordinance also addresses where and how pot can be grown in an effort to reduce odor, noise and other nuisances that can accompany cultivation.
Supervisor David Colfax, who voted no, called the ordinance an exercise in futility because state law remains in flux and federal law does not recognize marijuana as a legitimate medical use.
The ordinance "is trying to make sense of an insane situation," he said.
Having law enforcement oversee marijuana-growing permits is a waste of county money and resources at a time when the county is considering laying off 100 people to deal with a $7.6 million budget deficit, said Supervisor John Pinches, the other no vote.
"We're taking money from other services to basically prop up the price of marijuana," he said.
Cohen, however, contended increasing the number of plants will benefit the county's economy.
"It will generate tax-paying jobs," he said.
But upping the plant limit also is likely to attract more marijuana growers to the county and more home invasion-type robberies, said Sheriff Tom Allman.
A majority of the people who spoke Tuesday opposed the ordinance in general. But supervisors Kendall Smith and John McCowen — who helped draft the amendment — said most people on both sides of the medical marijuana issue who participated in meetings on the ordinance favored the amendment as a good compromise on a work in progress.
"It's the best we have to offer at this time," Smith said.
McCowen said he doubted many people would be applying for permits to exceed the limit, given the scrutiny they would be required to undergo.
And those who do apply are unlikely to be the people who are causing problems that the ordinance was designed to address.
Two supervisor candidates attending the hearing also were split.
Dan Hamburg, a former congressman and supervisor, said the ordinance requirements are too restrictive.
"I can't support them," he said.
Wendy Roberts, a Mendocino business consultant, said the ordinance is not perfect but appears to balance the needs of the growers with those of their neighbors.
Those opposed "would like no restrictions on their behavior," she said.
Both candidates believe the ultimate solution is legalizing all uses of marijuana, regulating it and taxing it.