The Riverside County Board of Supervisors set a public hearing for Ordinance No. 449.247, an interim ordinance that is intended to clarify section 3.3 of Ordinance 348 of the county code prohibiting the cultivation of marijuana. A crowd of 20 residents from throughout the county came out to decry the move which proposes to have public safety resources enforce the law in respect to commercial growers and increases fines for those in violation of the county’s law regarding illegal growth of the drug.
Supervisor Jefferies said the current realities are that marijuana cultivation is illegal and that the ordinance is not intended to punish those with “a handful of plants in their backyard” for personal medical use.
“Under the current county regulations today, Riverside County does not authorize anyone at any time and place in the unincorporated communities to cultivate marijuana in any circumstance,” he said. “It is done through a process that basically states if it is illegal at the federal level it is illegal at the county level. What we are proposing is an attempt to have our public safety resources put to use on what I personally consider to be the more important issues facing our communities and our unincorporated communities… Basically the approach is what I consider the equivalent of a parking ticket under the proposed structure for a handful of plants and works its way up to where you have a commercial operation. It gets tough at that point; it gets really tough at that point.”
Since marijuana cultivation is illegal under federal law, cities and counties cannot regulate marijuana growth, but are allowed to ban it. The new ordinance will fall under land use where cities and counties can determine what is appropriate or inappropriate within its jurisdiction. Violators can be fined as much as $1,000 a day and sentenced to serve up to six months in jail.
“It’s an attempt to prioritize public resources until we can have a larger discussion at a later date as to what California and what Riverside County is going to do about medical marijuana.”
Supervisor Jeff Stone said that as a pharmacist he knew there were medical benefits to marijuana but until the federal law changed, the hands of pharmacists were tied.
“Let me say this and I have said it all along, there are pharmacological benefits to cannabis, especially for people that have significant cancers, AIDS for nausea for people undergoing chemotherapy,” said Stone, noting that was also the opinion of the Food and Drug Administration who approves drugs for medical use. “As many of you know there is a drug on the market called Marinol that takes a purified form of THC and allows it to be dispensed by lawful pharmacies to help those who need this treatment. Most of you know I still own a pharmacy, now if I was to bring medical marijuana into my pharmacy tomorrow I would get a visit from the DEA, probably the same day and they would take my license away which would put my pharmacy out of business.”
Stone went on to say that marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug, one with no medicinal benefits.
“It doesn’t belong as a schedule one,” he said, adding that President Barack Obama made a campaign promise to reclassify medicinal cannabis’ rating so it would become available to those who need it. “If he would just reclassify it and make it a schedule 3 drug, then you would have licensed physicians who could prescribe it and licensed pharmacies that could actually dispense commercial forms (of marijuana) and take away the stigma attached to it for medicinal use.”
Until marijuana is reclassified though, public officials are forced to enforce the laws regarding it something which Stone believes is a waste of public resources.
“It’s a shame we have this disjointed debacle, the federal law in conflict with the local law in conflict with the state initiative. It would be nice if the federal government would just step up to the plate and do what needs to be done,” he said adding that it would eliminate a lot of headaches for local government and code enforcement who would be responsible for enforcing the laws regarding illegal marijuana growth. “It creates dangers for people. It’s just a waste of public resources when the federal government can solve this problem and stop leaving local government in legal limbo.”
Rebecca McGuire spoke about her daughter, a 25-year-old bio-engineer who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia at the age of 18.
“It’s a very painful disease and on one knows why it is … It is very painful,” she said, adding that the only thing that the rheumatologist would prescribe was narcotics. “She overslept, she missed classes, she missed labs … it was a nightmare. She decided to try medicinal cannabis and it worked. She was totally narcotic free.”
McGuire said she went to UC Davis and became a master gardener then began to grow marijuana organically to ensure her daughter was getting it in its purest form.
“I did not want my daughter to buy marijuana grown by Mexicans who use chemical fertilizers,” she said. “We need to grow it to make sure it’s pure until it becomes an industry where purity is guaranteed.”
Author and marijuana activist Thurnell Anderson also spoke of the benefits of the drug.
“I can understand the illustrious panel here being in the dark about marijuana and about medical marijuana period,” he said. “but if you own a Bible and you open up to the first page and you look at Genesis 1:29:30 it talks how God has decreed Herbs for man’s benefit and its use.”
Anderson went on to say he appreciated the fact that marijuana had a good medicinal purpose and that he believed the ordinance had to have a number of plants attached to the fine structure.
“I would suggest this, 199 plants, a buck fine no officer time, above 199 plants, $1,000, $1,000 whatever you want to do,” he said. “Really send a message that says we aren’t screwing around with medical marijuana, people.”
Ron Downey said he would like to see the board get Riverside County to use the expert’s opinions instead of writing ordinances using those with no experience to draft them.
“You need to use the expertise that we have in this audience and talk to them,” he said. “That is all we can do is use what we have that is all I would ask you to do is use the expertise that you have.”
Douglas Lampher said that he believed Stone should be commended for his willingness to educate himself about the issue which has come up before the supervisors frequently over the past 10 years and that regulation was imperative
“I am a constituent of three of the seated board members. I am a property owner in three districts and I have very active businesses in two of the supervisor’s districts,” he said. “Regulation is necessary. Prohibition has not worked to this present date. Supervisor Stone has a miniature Amsterdam in his district along highway 74 with three locations within a quarter mile district so prohibition has not served you well, Supervisor Stone.”
Lampher went on to say that something needed to be done about the proliferation within the area, that under the constitution state law trumps federal law and that ultimately the board needed to have regulation, not prohibition.
“One operator was driven out by the county council, reformed under a new organization and is still sitting there right under a lit intersection,” he said. “These need to be dealt with and prohibition is not dealing with it so I have to commend supervisor Jefferies … for bringing this matter back before the board. What we need to start addressing is we need to start a task force made up of the county and of stakeholders that do have an interest for those who need it to have affordable access to cannabis in this county.”
After the citizen comments, Jefferies said that this was his first opportunity to gauge his colleagues on the board and how they would like to proceed with the issue.
“First time I have had the ability to have the discussion with my colleagues and hear the testimony of the people … I agree this is a very complex issue going forward, dealing with the feds, I can tell you what I know,” Jeffries said. “I know in the first district … we have an explosion of grow yards that are not small in the number of plants many of them are commercial operations, many of them have some of the neighbors scared to death. My goal here today is to deal with those issues; to deal with those large operations and not spend our resources on those who are doing personal small grows. I am trying to craft something here that works within the existing framework and foundation that the county has in place.”
Ultimately the board passed the motion, made by Jeffries and seconded by Stone, to set the issue for hearing on Sept. 23 unanimously.