Responding to a Trinity County grand jury’s recommendations concerning development of the county’s commercial cannabis ordinance has taken two separate Trinity County Board of Supervisors’ meetings to debate. It concluded last week with a divided 3-2 vote of the board in support of the recommendation to dissolve the board’s ad hoc cannabis committee, though there was no action proposed or taken to actually do so at this time.
The grand jury recommended that the board dissolve its ad hoc cannabis committee of two board members (Judy Morris and Keith Groves) who have guided the development of local cannabis regulations since 2016.
In its place, the grand jury recommended formation of “an open, transparent standing committee by September 2019,” specifying membership to include representatives of the county planning department, district attorney’s office, sheriff’s department and members of the public including growers and non-growers. The grand jury called for strong leadership of the committee to reach “productive conclusions” and deadlines in order to conduct business in a timely manner.
Sup. Judy Morris drafted the board’s response to the grand jury, saying the recommendation would not be implemented because it is not warranted, and provided great detail about the work performed by the existing ad hoc.
During last week’s board meeting, Sups. Bobbi Chadwick, John Fenley and Jeremy Brown voted to accept the grand jury recommendation. Sups. Morris and Groves were opposed.
The motion included responses to two other grand jury recommendations as drafted by Morris, indicating that both measures “require further analysis.” One was to establish variable nuisance fines to better deter cannabis code violations and the other was to contract with an aerial mapping service for code enforcement purposes.
Audience members commented on the ad hoc committee recommendation. Several said they’ve had some issues with the ad hoc committee, but argued now is not the time to hand the cannabis program off to a large, standing committee or planning department staff.
“The ad hoc has done a very good job of balancing everyone’s interests. Creating a giant, standing committee would never work. It would not be able to adapt and make quick decisions to make the program work, and handing it off to staff? They have plenty on their plate already,” argued John Brower of Junction City. He urged the board to retain existing ad hoc committees at least until the CEQA process of approving a final Environmental Impact Report for the cannabis program has been completed.
Others agreed now is not the time “to pass the baton,” but also offered support of the idea of a larger committee that includes cannabis cultivators.
One argued in favor of dissolving all ad hoc committees, citing what she said are inconsistencies between the county’s ordinances and amendments. She specifically challenged the legality of designating carve-out areas where commercial cannabis activities are not allowed.
Jake Grossman Crist of Hayfork called the grand jury’s ad hoc recommendation “a lose/lose. There’s no win, but there’s always a hotter Hell.” He said “there are very few places in Trinity County I won’t go, but I won’t go to the Planning Department anymore. I know the ad hoc is not a perfect solution, but do not pass it on to a worse place. The Planning Department shouldn’t be in charge of anything, let alone asking them to give direction to our lives.”
Tom Ballanco of Douglas City noted the ad hoc committee exists at the pleasure of the board chair, and he opposed the idea of forming a large standing committee in its place, recounting his own years of service on previous standing committees “that tried to get different people together. We met for years. I don’t think it was productive. One committee gave way to another that talked for more years. For better or worse, the five decision makers are you, and if enough people don’t like your decisions, we un-elect you.”
Sup. Bobbi Chadwick argued the cannabis ad hoc committee has consisted of the same two board members since it was formed back when the county didn’t have an Agriculture Commissioner or a County Administrative Officer and before California voted for Proposition 64 legalizing the adult recreational use of marijuana.
“Conditions have changed,” she said, making a motion to accept the grand jury’s recommendation to dissolve the ad hoc, and Sup. Jeremy Brown noted it would not force the ad hoc to dissolve within a specific timeframe.
Sup. Keith Groves said that regardless of the board’s response to the grand jury, “the chair still has the ability to assign an ad hoc if they choose to. Bobbi is up for chair next year and can unwind it then during her tenure.”
“It is shocking to me to try and change course on this. This is some backdoor way to destroy the program and I can’t go along with it,” he said.
Morris agreed, saying “that is what it feels like. The transparency issue I don’t understand. The items are all vetted before the Planning Commission many times and then it comes to us. People are able to speak, and this recommendation would undermine the program in the little bit we have left to do. Let’s get through the EIR and we will be done.”
Following the 3-2 vote endorsing the grand jury recommendation, Groves suggested that CAO Richard Kuhns start investigating the creation of a 15-member standing committee, and Morris, this year’s board chair, reiterated “there’s no change now though.”