Supes direct county to form commercial cannabis cultivation ad hoc committee

Cannabis and illegal grows don’t seem to be going anywhere, various department heads and some county supervisors shared Tuesday. The question is what to do about it: Allow some form of commercial cultivation to try and gain tax revenue and state funding, or maintain the status quo and tackle the illegal grows with current resources.

During the Tuesday, May 12 Lassen County Board of Supervisor’s special meeting, the board heard from department heads and the public regarding the idea of amending Title 18 of the Lassen County Code and allowing some form of commercial cannabis cultivation.

“I think this is mainly a forum to get those ideas out there,” County Administrative Officer Richard Egan said of the meeting.

Ultimately, by the end of the night, the board provided direction to form an ad hoc committee dedicated to the topic. Committee members will include department heads, two supervisors and two members of the public, who will be announced in about two weeks.

The discussion regarding allowing commercial cultivation is not new, however.

The topic has come before the board numerous times in the past few years as the board considered amendments to Title 18. The most recent appearance came in January, and the supervisors opted to table the discussion. Currently, commercial cannabis cultivation is illegal in Lassen County. According to the sheriff there are two ways the county handles illegal grows: On the criminal side, it’s only a misdemeanor, but the county also works to abate grows through code enforcement at the planning and building department.

During this Tuesday evening meeting, though, the supervisors opened the floor again to community members who shared their views on the matter.

Lassen County Sheriff Dean Growdon noted cannabis wasn’t going anywhere and estimated there are between 200 and 300 illegal grows in the county and resources are limited. He mentioned that some counties that allow some kind of commercial cultivation are able to tap into funding though the state’s Prop 64 fund — in an amount of $1 million — but noted it wasn’t worth approving commercial cultivation for that amount alone. Should the county acquire the funds, he’d like to use them toward a year round team that could tackle the illegal grows.

“My opinion would be to put together an ad hoc committee,” Growdon said mentioning it could include him, the planning department, treasurer’s office, community members from both sides of the issue and members from the board. “It would be nice to come back to the board with some kind of options, and try to answer the question about what’s it going to look like if we do nothing, and what’s the current picture.”

Other department heads also spoke on the issue. Treasurer/ Tax Collector Nancy Cardenas again noted the difficulty of collecting taxes on illegal grows. While voter approved Measure M allows the county to tax illegal and legal commercial operations, there are flaws in the language in how the county collects taxes, she said. She suggested having ordinances in place explaining the commercial cultivation, and said Measure M may have to go back before the voters to amend any problems.

During the nearly two hour meeting Tuesday, members from the public also voiced their desire to see the commercial industry in Lassen, and others were strongly against brining in legal operations.

For those in favor of commercial cultivation, some mentioned opportunities for the county to bring in tax revenues and jobs from the heavily regulated industry, and suggested having a development agreement to test out a commercial operation. Others suggested the county should start viewing it like a business, noting cannabis may soon be federally legal.

Meanwhile, those against the idea of allowing commercial cultivation noted the already existing abundance of illegal grows and feared loosening restrictions would only invite more illegal grows. Those speaking against noted water usage and theft, increased traffic on rural roads and said that allowing legal cultivation wouldn’t stop the black market for the product.

Ultimately, the board opted to form an ad hoc committee to discuss all outcomes of the matter, whether it’s allowing cultivation, or maintaining the status quo.

Supervisors Chris Gallagher and Jeff Hemphill both  shared their support for the ad hoc committee. Supervisor Tom Hammond also shared support, but noted the emergency situation and urgency to handle illegal grows. Supervisor Gary Bridges urged the county to pay attention to the situation, and to not “jump off the bridge” too fast. Aaron Albaugh also stressed his desire for the county to not move too quickly.

Any members of the public interested in submitting an application to join the ad hoc committee should write a letter describing their desire. The letter should be addressed to county counsel Amanda Uhrhammer at 221 S. Roop Street in Susanville, CA. Board Chairman Aaron Albaugh noted he would make the decision of the public members in about two weeks.