Supervisors nix commercial cannabis cultivation in Lassen County

Lassen County’s Board of Supervisors failed to approve the recommendations of its Commercial Cannabis Cultivation Ad Hoc Committee at today’s (Tuesday, Feb. 22) meeting.

The ad hoc committee — comprised of Maurice Anderson, director of planning and building services; Dean Growdon, Lassen County Sheriff; Amanda Uhrhammer, county counsel; Craig Hemphill, agricultural commissioner; Karol Acona, Lassen County resident; and Tom Neely, Lassen County resident — asked the board for direction to prepare an ordinance (based on its recommendation) to allow up to five use permits applications in Lassen County to allow indoor commercial cannabis cultivation.

District 3 Supervisor Jeff Hemphill and District 5 Supervisor Tom Hammond voted aye while District 1 Supervisor Chris Gallagher, District 2 Supervisor Gary Bridges and District 4 Supervisor Arron Albaugh voted no.

“We’ve wasted enough time and money on this,” Bridges said. “I think that’s a pretty good thing.”

Bridges said he’s found commercial cultivation wouldn’t generate as much money as expected, and despite the rejection of legal cannabis cultivation funds the state could provide to the county for law enforcement would still be available, despite the board’s decision.

County Administrative Officer Richard Egan said there is no legal commercial cannabis cultivation in Lassen County, and there hasn’t been. He said residents are still able to grow six plants indoors as permitted by state law. He said the committee recommended “very limited” and “very narrow” commercial cultivation sites based on zoning with a maximum of five in the county.

“At the end of the day, there was a motion to pursue that (the committee’s recommendations),” Egan said. “It was seconded, and then failed 3-2 … It may come back if one of the supervisors wants to revisit the issue.”

According to the staff report, “It is possible that adoption of a commercial cannabis cultivation ordinance could provide some stimulation to the local economy through job creation, taxes, sales, etc. However, the exact effect an ordinance would have in Lassen County is unknown,” and, “Lassen County does not have adequate staff to form an enforcement team dedicated to commercial cannabis on a full-time basis. Staff would be pulled from other jobs to form an enforcement team and an application processing team.”

According to the staff report, “The recommendation to consider an ordinance to allow cultivation on industrial-zoned land is made because it is anticipated that such an ordinance could potentially be exempted from the California Environmental Quality Act. However, if such an ordinance cannot be exempted, and an environmental impact report were to be required, the ad hoc committee recommends that commercial cannabis cultivation not be allowed because of the up-front cost for Lassen County to prepare an environmental impact report. As proposed, it is expected that individual use permit applicants will be responsible to pay for their own CEQA compliance (in addition to county application fees).

“If the ordinance cannot be exempted from CEQA, it is the recommendation of the ad hoc committee that Lassen County continue its practice of not allowing commercial cannabis cultivation.”

Key findings and conclusions
According to the staff report, the committee made a number of findings and conclusions, including:

“A legal cannabis cultivation program in Lassen County is not expected to significantly reduce illegal cultivation … Keeping permitting and implementation costs as low as possible while making noncompliance as costly as possible would be the desired approach.”

“Development of an ordinance to allow legal commercial cannabis cultivation will be costly and time-consuming procedural requirements and analysis required to process and allow the board to consider allowing commercial cannabis cultivation would likely occupy the majority of the time of at least one of the planners in the planning and building services department (not including the time of county counsel, (the) county administrative officer, (the) planning and building service department director,  deputy director and others.”

“Lassen County code enforcement and law enforcement resources are currently insufficient to the challenge posed by illegal cultivation.”

“The need for additional law enforcement and code enforcement personnel is not expected to be reduced significantly regardless of whether a commercial cannabis cultivation ordinance is or is not adopted. Code enforcement can use liens, penalties and other mechanisms to recover some of the cost to enforce illegal grows, but it is unlikely that all of the sheriffs or planning and building services department’s code enforcement costs will ever be fully recovered.”

“Even after an ordinance is adopted, it can be costly and take a lot of staff time to implement and operate a cultivation program. Further, it may not be possible to recover all county costs through application fees … Thus, fees are often lower than the full cost of implementation in an attempt be conservative and not collect fees in excess of the (cost of) implementation.”