Dunsmuir City Council holds heated public hearing on pot cultivation

Ami Ridling

Tensions were high during the Dunsmuir City Council’s standing-room only public hearing on April 15 when community members spoke out about a proposal for medical marijuana to be grown in the downtown area.

It was prompted when Mayor Peter Arth and Green Collar Compassionate Collective owner Leslie Wilde proposed to establish a medical marijuana greenhouse project on Arth’s undeveloped commercial property.

The hearing was intended to give community members a chance to speak about the notion of medical marijuana cultivation in the downtown historic district as well as a possible ordinance which would regulate cannabis growing activities.

The council ultimately voted 3-1 to establish a subcommittee to make regulation recommendations to council members for the commercial and residential growing of medical marijuana.

During the two-hour hearing, Arth put his gavel to use numerous times to call the riled attendees to order.

Nearly 20 area residents spoke about the controversial nursery proposal which had already made news headlines throughout California cities.

Dunsmuir City Attorney John Kenny attended, as did Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department representatives Sgt. Karl Houtman and Cpt. John Villani.

Several members of the public spoke in favor of the nursery; others strongly objected to its proposed Dunsmuir Ave. and Cedar St. corner location.

Additional areas of concern that were noted are the increased potential for crime, the message it could send to kids, and how the nursery would affect Dunsmuir’s overall image.

To many attendees, the fact that the city’s mayor is proposing the nursery was particularly noteworthy.

“How someone would have this kind of blank regard for the people that he is supposedly representing is beyond me. You have your own personal agenda for being on the city council. You should resign from your position as soon as possible,” resident Bunny Steele stated to Arth. “This makes me wonder what else is going on that we don’t know about.”

“People said I was crazy for opening businesses in Dunsmuir. I might be crazy, but you’re insane!” exclaimed resident Ken Hall. He went on to say that teenage marijuana use in Dunsmuir is a significant issue, and a downtown marijuana nursery would not help the problem.

Attendee Will Newman also expressed concern over how the nursery would affect the town’s kids. “I don’t think this is a message we want to send to our children,” he said.

Meeting attendee Rea Lucia pointed out that the nursery will ensure that marijuana is grown using pure, natural methods.

One medical marijuana patient stated, “What the mayor is proposing is going to be really beneficial for the community.” Now that medical marijuana has been legalized, she explained that the next logical step is to grow it in a safe and controlled environment.

“This is a hair-brained idea,” stated attendee Phyllis Wood. In past years, Dunsmuir had the reputation of being a “drug town,” she said, and residents have worked hard for the city to overcome that image. Rather than growing pot, she suggested that the nursery be a community garden project and grow vegetables for the Dunsmuir Farmer’s market.

One speaker said he anticipates that the nursery would halt the city’s economic growth by driving away existing businesses. “At this time you have showed no credibility and a blatant disregard for this town,” he said.

Another stated that the nursery would negatively impact tourism, and that the nursery is not conducive to the historic district. “We would be a laughing stock,” she said.

“I’m against marijuana being the focal point of our town,” said another attendee. She also noted that Dunsmuir is an I-5 corridor community, and that makes it more vulnerable to crime. In addition, she pointed out that tourists and teens often sit right above where the nursery is proposed.

“Right now we are meeting overwhelming ignorance,” said Jesse Tolin, a war veteran and medical marijuana patient. He suggested that the attendees educate themselves about medical marijuana.

Villani, representing the sheriff’s department, told the council that if the city moves forward with the nursery, the department will have to renegotiate its service contract with Dunsmuir to ensure adequate public safety.

Currently, the city contracts with the sheriff’s department for its law enforcement.

Villani also held up a copy of the Record Searchlight, which published a photograph of Arth standing on the commercial plot where he plans to create the nursery. In the photo, the sheriff’s substation is shown in the background. “We don’t want this kind of press,” he said.

At the close of the public hearing, council member Helen Cartwright pointed out that marijuana might become legal altogether following the November General Election. She suggested that further nursery discussions be postponed until then.

“This is not a question of legalization; it’s a question of land use,” said Kenny.

Councilor Mario Rubino stated that the council has to determine whether an ordinance should be adopted to impose regulations on the overall growing of medical marijuana.

After the public hearing, Arth told the newspaper that he intends to move forward with the nursery plans.

Wilde and Arth are currently applying for a historic site alteration permit for the construction of the nursery’s fence, and they are scheduled to go before the Planning Commission with their application on May 5.