By Sean Donahoe
As previously discussed in this column, last November’s election results weren’t great for cannabis farmers in Butte, Lake, Nevada and Shasta counties, with cultivation ballot measures going the wrong way. Boards of Supervisors in several counties have passed severely restrictive ordinances this spring, with some of the most interesting political developments happening in Santa Cruz and Yuba counties. These vastly different counties show the diversity of geography, governance and activism found in Northern California, and others around the state could learn a few lessons.
After an extended conversation about the role of cannabis cultivation in the residential, and yet rural, Santa Cruz mountain communities, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on March 24 to restrict all cannabis cultivation to no more than a 10 foot by 10 foot total area. The supervisors had listened to residents’ complaints of rowdy neighbors, water diversion, unpermitted tree clearing, but little reefer madness. Patients, activists, dispensaries, manufacturers, ancillary industry stakeholders and cannabis farmers had been imploring the board since November to craft a reasonable ordinance to no avail.
What happened next was a great thing, as a new group Responsible Cultivation Santa Cruz was quickly stood up. Meetings were held, monies were raised, lawyers were hired, signatures were gathered, and a community was organized. While signatures are still being verified at the time of this writing, it looks like this will be the first qualified referendum in the last 13 years in Santa Cruz. Some of the signatures were gathered at ReformCA roundtable meeting, and we have high hopes that this reenergized cannabis community is primed to both push back on their local cultivation ban as well as integrate with statewide organizations like the Emerald Growers Association and the coming 2016 legalization effort.
The situation in Yuba County has been more drastic and more confusing. The opposition here was far more organized, sporting Tea Party shirts at meetings, a frequently updated website, and strong local political allies. Reefer madness was in full effect here in this largely rural, deeply conservative county in which much of the local economy thrives off of cannabis farmers, the ancillary industry, and the economic impact that they bring to other local businesses. Frustrated locals patients, farmers and activists here took a decidedly more militant stance after the board unanimously passed an outdoor cultivation ban in March.
The board in Yuba County passed the ordinance as a matter of (supposed) urgency, putting the law immediately into effect, and eliminating the democratic possibility for citizens to gather signatures and pursue a referendum. Their vote was as sloppy as it was cynical and, after a stern letter from a high-priced Sacramento law firm retained by a newly formed Citizens for Solvency, the board was forced to fix their errors and re-voted to ban outdoor cultivation on April 28, again with an urgency finding to block a referendum effort. Lawsuits are still pending but it appears as if will be a long, hot, divisive and expensive fight in Yuba County this summer as farmers enter this growing season without a reasonable ordinance to regulate their activities, which bring so much value to the local economy. What happens next in Yuba is both up to the leaders of the County and the leaders of the cannabis community.
Perhaps it would be an exaggeration to say that it’s both the best of times and the worst of times in these two counties, as the outlook in Yuba county is currently grim—but here’s to hoping that good political strategy and collaborative activism may yet prevail here and in other California communities where reefer madness and dinosaur politicians are still enacting bans.