The topic of potential changes to Siskiyou County’s existing marijuana cultivation ordinance drew a crowd at Tuesday’s board of supervisors meeting. As the Adult Use of Marijuana Act was passed in November 2016 and allows for the recreational use of marijuana, the county is now faced with the task of bringing the local law in line with state law.

The county’s marijuana cultivation ordinance currently allows residents to grow pot for medical purposes only. It was amended in 2015 to ban outdoor marijuana cultivation and allow county residents to grow only after obtaining a license from the county to do so.

The board of supervisors – not including District 4 Supervisor Lisa Nixon, who was absent – heard information from members of the public as well as Sheriff Jon Lopey and District Attorney Kirk Andrus on how the ordinance should be altered and how the laws dictating cultivation and use should be enforced.

The meeting saw many more members of the public come forward to comment than is typical for a board of supervisors meeting. The crowd shared its majority opinion through a note given to the board clerk, which listed the names of 22 people present in the room who were all expressing their support for recreational marijuana use.

The view voiced most often by the approximately 20 people who came forward to comment on marijuana cultivation in the county was one of support for growing but also for the establishment of set requirements for growers and users, as well as a regulatory process.

Lopey noted that he likes the county’s existing marijuana ordinance and would like to focus on cleaning up the language and making it consistent with California’s new laws. He also hopes to streamline the abatement process for grow sites found not to be in compliance with the law, and advocated for an abatement procedure similar to that of Tehama County. That county’s process, he said, has resulted in significantly faster abatement actions than those of Siskiyou County.

Lopey also recommended imposing maximum code enforcement fees and fines for ordinance violators, noting, “Last year people didn’t face fines or serious ramifications.” He stressed the need to begin implementing licensing and permitting provisions related to AUMA, and to educate the public about the ordinance.

He said he plans to “exert pressure” on the State Water Board and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to help the sheriff’s office with enforcement efforts. He mentioned the alleged adverse environmental impacts of some grows and asserted that those operations are “a huge environmental blight on our land.”

Andrus added, “The new state law has added clarity, like it or hate it.” He recommended a continued ban on outdoor growing but said, “Making sure the ordinance is consistent with state law is the biggest part of this.” Except in instances where the law has specifically spoken, Andrus explained, the board of supervisors retains discretion.

The lengthy comment period that followed on the topic contained common themes, the foremost being that commenters believe marijuana growers are good people, that growers want rules and regulations imposed on cultivation sites in the county, that those rules and regulations should be clear to all and be followed and enforced, and that the county should look at marijuana as an agricultural industry that can bring in a great deal of revenue to help boost the local economy and fix a number of issues the county is facing.

County resident Timothy Griffith was the first member of the public to speak on the matter. He rejected Lopey’s point on the negative environmental impacts of marijuana cultivation. Citing his own experience performing agricultural cleanup on farm and ranch properties, he said that he finds more pesticides at local farms than he does in grow sites.

He advised that the board “get on board with commercial cultivation” in order to “create jobs and boost the economy.” He firmly stated, “Tax it, license it, regulate it. Then you have money for mental health, fixing your roads and helping the homeless population.”

A woman who works for Green Leaf Lab, an Oregon company which provides medical cannabis analytical testing services, told the board that she sees “a great potential in Siskiyou County for a regulated, licensed cannabis industry.” She offered her expertise in helping with the ordinance and posited that if the county marketed “Siskiyou-specific strains” of marijuana – which she said have existed for decades – it could generate significant profits for the county’s use.

Many people noted that marijuana can be grown organically – without the use of pesticides or fertilizers – which would eliminate the environmental arguments put forth by cultivation opponents.

Numerous individuals mentioned that a ban on outdoor growing essentially eliminates their ability to grow at all, as the equipment needed for indoor growing is costly. Additionally, not everyone has a viable space to grow. Plants grown indoors are also at a higher risk for pests like mites, which can be hard to combat once they appear.

A significant point of confusion on the local ordinance was brought up repeatedly. People said that though the county’s ordinance states that individuals growing marijuana must have a license to be considered “legal,” when they have attempted to obtain a license from the planning department, they have found such a license does not exist.

County resident Whitney Walker came forward and passionately informed the board that the county “misled the public grossly,” and that nothing has ever existed to allow medical marijuana users to grow legally in the county.

Though County Administrator Terry Barber maintained that growing permits were, in fact, available from Public Health, the crowd remained adamant that this was not the case, and many people continued to reiterate this point to the board. The board agreed that if some issue had occurred to prevent residents from applying for permits to grow legally, the situation needed to be remedied immediately.

Multiple people came forward on behalf of the county’s Asian population. One woman called for the formation of an “ad hoc team” to help with education on the marijuana ordinance across cultural lines, as well as the creation of well-defined legal requirements and enforcement procedures for growing.

People are willing to meet the requirements, she said. In reference to the complaint that some growers are not meeting permit requirements for wells, septic and the like, she explained that the planning department has limited staff, so many people are “waiting in line.” Additionally, she called for all property codes to be enforced, not just in instances where cultivation is concerned. This was a desire echoed by many in the crowd.

Overall, the hope expressed by members of the public was that county staff, law enforcement and citizens can come together and work as one to establish fair regulations for the cannabis cultivation in Siskiyou County and subsequently make sure that those rules are followed and enforced.

The members of the board who were present agreed that, as Nixon was absent and there is clearly need for further consideration and discussion of the many issues surrounding the ordinance, that the topic will be on next week’s board of supervisors meeting agenda.