With state law setting forth a licensing framework and broad oversight of medical marijuana activities, Trinity County supervisors have set their Planning Commission to work quickly on drafting a new ordinance to control commercial marijuana cultivation in the county based on local land use and zoning classifications.

The goal is at least a preliminary plan by March 2016, when state legislation specifies that local jurisdictions without land use regulations in place for marijuana cultivation will lose their ability to participate in the licensing process.

Trinity County supervisors were advised that the March deadline may be deleted or extended in pending cleanup legislation and that Trinity County is protected by having an existing marijuana ordinance in place which can be amended over time.

Regardless, many attending last week’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting urged the county to proceed as quickly as possible so that growers striving toward compliance will know what they have to do before the next season begins in March or April.

A February deadline for mandatory registration with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board prompted some to ask that a provisional permit for commercial cannabis cultivation be developed by the county before its land use ordinance has been completed.

During discussion last week on how to proceed, Sups. Karl Fisher and Keith Groves suggested an update of the proposed aggregate grow ordinance developed by the Commission three years ago over many months of public workshops. They were both involved as Planning Commissioners prior to their election to the Board of Supervisors.

The board only adopted limits and standards for personal grows in 2012, declaring marijuana to be a public nuisance, and it never acted upon the aggregate or commercial grow standards recommended by the Planning Commission.

“We need the Planning Commission to look for how commercial medical marijuana gardens can be grown in this county in a way that mitigates all the issues that are a public nuisance,” Fisher said.

“We’re asking the Planning Commission to come up with a commercial grow ordinance that can mitigate all the issues. Yet if they come back and say there’s no way to mitigate all issues, then we have to look at that,” said Sup. Groves.

The proposed ordinance would specify in which zoning classifications cultivation could be permitted and conditions for approval such as setbacks, water requirements, forms of enclosure and odor control to limit impacts on neighboring properties. The prior planning recommendations limited cannabis cultivation to agricultural parcels of 30 acres or more and a 99-plant maximum.

The county isn’t required to allow commercial cultivation and could opt for a ban though board consensus doesn’t lean that way.

Sup. Bill Burton called the state’s adoption of a regulatory framework for medical marijuana “a moment to celebrate and an opportunity to legitimize this cottage industry,” adding a “dry county” designation for Trinity “is just not the reality of what we are facing or the direction California is going.”

Several advocates spoke last week of the economic benefits they see coming to Trinity County as the result of a booming marijuana industry and the county’s reputation as “a renowned part of the Emerald Triangle.” Some said they would gladly pay permit fees and taxes to help regulate the industry and provide revenue for other needed services, and they urged the board to mirror the state’s rules without “getting lost in debate.”

“The state has not had our backs and now it does. That’s one reason nothing moved forward before, but now we have direction from the state and authorization to move forward,” Sup. John Fenley said.

“We will put in every effort we can to make sure we have something by early next season now that local jurisdictions have authority we didn’t have before,” Sup. Judy Morris said.

“This is an emotional, hot issue in this county and everyone wants their 15 minutes at the mic,” Sup. Fisher said. “The Planning Commission needs to listen carefully in order to form an ordinance that is fair to all, and that takes time. I know growers want to know where they stand for next season, but I don’t think that’s reality. Maybe by the end of summer.”

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