Lake County fight over marijuana going back to voters

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Lake County’s ongoing battle over medical marijuana regulations returns to the ballot box, with two measures this November that, if passed, would overturn the county’s current pot ordinance approved by voters in June.

Measures 0 and P continue the tug-of-war over pot that is becoming a tradition of sorts. Each time the county attempts to enact restrictions on marijuana cultivation and dispensaries, pot advocates have challenged them with referendums, ballot initiatives or lawsuits.

Marijuana advocates have been more successful at obtaining signatures for ballot measures and referendums than in getting them passed. Voters soundly defeated their last ballot initiative, Measure D, in 2012.

The current ordinance initially was adopted by county supervisors last year. But they rescinded it and placed it on the June ballot as Measure N after pot advocates gathered enough signatures for a referendum.

“There are definitely two sides to this and it’s definitely polarized,” Lake County Sheriff Frank Rivero said of the dueling pot measures. He believes medical marijuana advocates refuse to accept the existing ordinance, approved by 52 percent of voters, because of the limits it puts on their potentially lucrative trade.

“The idea this is all medical is absurd. I’d say the vast majority of (marijuana cultivation) is for profit,” he said.

Pot proponents say they’re simply trying to allow patients to grow their own medicinal marijuana. The county’s ordinance currently prohibits the growing of marijuana outdoors in residential backyards and rural subdivisions. Growing indoors is allowed, but it’s more difficult and expensive to grow pot that way, they say.

As a result, the current ordinance effectively “denies people the ability to grow small amounts for themselves,” said Daniel McLean, a spokesman for the Emerald Unity Coalition, which is promoting Measure O on the November ballot.

He said Measure O is a good compromise between the rights of medical marijuana patients and people who don’t want marijuana in their neighborhoods.

Measure O proponents say it will, like the current ordinance, prohibit large-scale cultivation, but within limits that are not as strict. Both the current law and Measure O prohibit cultivation on vacant properties, but Measure O would allow up to four plants to be grown on residential lots smaller than 1 acre.

The current ordinance bans outdoor cultivation in residential neighborhoods and on parcels smaller than 1 acre or within community growth boundaries, such as rural subdivisions. Up to 48 plants can be grown on parcels that are zoned for agriculture and are larger than 20 acres.

Measure O would allow up to 48 plants on any 5-acre parcel with a residence. It also would create a county medical marijuana division to enforce the rules. The division would be funded by fees on collective gardens that have more than 12 plants per legal parcel.

Measure O, at 12 pages long, fills more than a quarter of the county’s sample ballots and includes an exhaustive list of environmental regulations and enforcement guidelines.

Measure P is shorter and simpler, said author Ron Kiczenski of Lucerne. Its text doesn’t even include the word “marijuana.”

The “Freedom to Garden Human Rights Restoration Act of 2014” simply states that it’s a natural human right to grow and use plants for the basic necessities of life.

“If you had a human right to grow a carrot, then I would have the same equal right to grow a cannabis plant,” Kiczenski said.

While it places no limits on the number of pot plants that could be grown, it does specify that it is only for personal needs, he said.

“The minute whatever you’re doing becomes a commercial activity, it’s no longer protected by this act,” he said. That includes selling it or growing quantities that clearly aren’t for personal use, he said. It also specifies “natural” plants, thereby excluding genetically modified products, Kiczenski said.

North Lakeport resident Tom Guthrie, a member of Save Measure N, campaigned for the existing ordinance earlier this year. He said it appears to have already improved the quality of life for non-pot growing residents of Lake County.

In previous years, he and his wife couldn’t leave their windows open in the summertime because of the overwhelming stench from their neighbor’s pot plants, Guthrie said.

“Marijuana grows do not belong in residential neighborhoods,” he said.

Rampant marijuana cultivation also is bad for tourism and creates an unsafe environment, according to Measure N supporters, who include the Chamber of Commerce and law enforcement officers. They say marijuana cultivation attracts crime, including home-invasion robberies.

Rivero said he believes the current ordinance is a good tool for controlling illegal pot growing.

“My hope is Measure N stays firm and we can continue to abate all this stuff, this illegal growing,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MendoReporter

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