CA - A 99-plant maximum for permitted marijuana growers is the new limit after the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 3-2 to adopt a set of changes to its ordinance governing medical marijuana cultivation, codified as Chapter 9.31 of the county code.

Fifth District Supervisor David Colfax and 3rd District Supervisor John Pinches voted against the changes.

"The people of California voted Prop. 215 (for) medical marijuana to be legal, but yet now we're going to get the sheriff department involved and coming into the houses and their bedrooms and stuff ... to me, that's not the whole concept of what legal' means," Pinches said.

He also argued the county didn't have the money to run violators through the court system, or to put them in jail.

"We're taking money away from our other services we drastically need to basically prop up the price of marijuana," Pinches said.

Colfax said the 9.31 revisions were "a horrible waste of time," calling the new ordinance "a dream document for an authoritarian state."

"I think this document before us is one of the most intrusive documents to come out of any administrative body I've ever seen," Colfax said.

Second District Supervisor John McCowen, who sat with 4th District Supervisor Kendall Smith on the committee that drafted the changes, noted there were fewer than 30 attendees at the reading of the ordinance, fewer people than there were at the many meetings where the changes were hammered out.

"On those previous occasions the room would be packed," he said. "And the room was clearly divided into marijuana proponents and marijuana opponents, and we don't have that today."

He noted the "mixed" responses the board had received in writing and during the public input portion of the Tuesday reading.

"I think what that proves is the fact that what was brought forward is a very balanced approach that makes a good-faith effort to address the needs of patients and also the concerns of people who have suffered the negative consequences of marijuana," McCowen said.

Smith argued the new regulations "will help minimize the legal dollars, both in the citing of individuals for violations of the law, and in the prosecution of those individuals."

Collectives and patients can grow up to 25 plants per parcel under the new ordinance, or apply for an exemption that would allow up to 99 plants, as long as the collective gets a permit from the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office and follows a list of new regulations the ordinance imposes.

Reactions were mixed during the public discussion of the changes to 9.31 during the first reading of the newly revised ordinance. A second reading is expected in April. The revised law is effective 30 days after it passes, which usually happens at the second reading.

Long-time medical marijuana advocate and grower Pebbles Trippet and Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman both took issue with the changes, but for different reasons.

"I don't see it helping because of the violence the large amounts of marijuana may attract," Allman said of the new ordinance. "I predict we'll see home invasions increase."

He also said the new provisions for medical marijuana growing raise a number of questions, using as an example the requirement that anyone who applies for a permit to grow up to 99 plants "has not been convicted of a violent felony ... and is not currently on parole or felony probation."

Allman questioned whether that meant a background check would be needed, and if so, who would pay.

The ordinance requires growers applying for the 99-plant permit to buy Allman's zip-ties for the plants, which cost $25 each.

Another provision of the ordinance calls for the Board of Supervisors to set a fee to cover the county's cost for processing the application, including investigation.

Trippet maintained medical marijuana shouldn't be regulated as a nuisance, as 9.31 does, and said the new ordinance was too restrictive for marijuana patients and growers.

She referred to a lawsuit five patients brought against the county in September claiming 9.31 was unconstitutional, saying after the board adopted the changes, "The courts, the people in the robes, will decide it."

That court case may be back in court in May, if an Anaheim collective's appeal filed with the Santa Ana appellate court is decided by then.

Trippet said the Anaheim case is pivotal to the 9.31 lawsuit.

"In Anaheim, they banned collectives; here they are reducing the rights of collectives, and they can't do either one," Trippet said.

County Counsel Jeanine Nadel said she's taking a "wait and see" approach regarding how the Anaheim ruling will affect the county's new regulations.

Matthew Cohen of Northstone Organics Cooperative, Inc. said he was "ecstatic" about the new regulations 9.31 imposes. Northstone grows marijuana for 250 patients in nine Bay Area counties, all of it tested by Steep Hill Labs of Oakland for quality.

"This is an incredibly progressive step forward for Mendocino County," Cohen said. "Before long we're going to have tested, certified organic, regulated product for medical cannabis patients."

Steep Hill Labs tests for mold, bacteria and pesticide residues, and representatives said the organization applied to be a third-party investigator under the new 9.31 provisions.

"What we want to do is help local people comply with these regulations so they're not a burden," Dr. Janet Weiss of Steep Hill said.

Under the new ordinance, collectives or patients applying for the 99-plant permit can hire a third-party investigator instead of having the Sheriff's Office investigate the grow site for compliance.

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Author: Tiffany Revelle
Copyright: 2010 The Ukiah Daily Journal
Website: 99-plant medical pot limit given initial approval; final vote in April - Ukiah Daily Journal

• Thanks to MedicalNeed for submitting this article