An attempt to curb marijuana-related crime by reducing the amount card-carrying patients can possess and grow was squashed Tuesday.
Opponents called the effort to repeal Sonoma's 2006 guidelines for medical marijuana "ill-informed" and a "sneaky attempt to bypass democracy" criticizing the lack of stakeholder involvement.
The proposal would have modified the County Medical Marijuana Possession and Cultivation Guidelines to more restrictive state Health and Safety Code levels.
The state standard allows a patient or caregiver to possess no more than 8 ounces of dried marijuana and grow no more than six mature or 12 immature plants per patient. Sonoma County's guidelines allow a patient or caregiver to possess 3 pounds and grow up to 99 plants within 100 square feet.
The suggestion to reduce the amount of medical marijuana came from 1st District's Valerie Brown and Board chair Shirley Zane, which some criticized as being out of touch with reality.
But Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas and District Attorney Jill Ravich said that marijuana-related arrests and crime have risen since 2006, including simple assaults and assaults with deadly weapons, as well as homicides.
“If you look at a map of crime, it peaks in Sonoma County versus the rest of North Bay," Freitas said.
"It brings people to Sonoma County, this idea of permissiveness...the perception…And the idea is to change the perception of Sonoma County to the outside world," District Attorney Jill Ravitch said.
Supervisor Brown pointed out that many rentals are used for marijuana grows and use illegal electrical hookups, adding that there was a very large illegal grow in her district.
“The fire chief who went out there said the potential for fire was huge in every aspect of that facility. They had a slash of copies of cards and all said they were growing for patients. We found they were not all identifiable cards.
More than 100 people crowded the supervisor chambers, all opposing the proposed reductions. A group of people was wearing pink “Don’t criminalize patients” stickers.
Zane said she is a former hospital chaplain and said the medical community doesn't understand pain management.
"As someone who has had chronic pain for most of my life, I speak from experience," she told the audience.
"But there are bad actors. We're talking about real violent crime. I did do a raid with the narcotics officers from our Sheriff's Department. And I was shocked to see the amount of weapons, amount of gas, amount of toxic chemicals being poured into our watershed, amount of child endangerment issues."
A staff report indicated Sonoma County teenagers show higher use than state or national averages and that a young age of marijuana use reduces educational achievement.
"This hearing is not an effort to vilify legitimate use or supply of medical marijuana," Zane said. "I support the lifting of the federal and state prohibition. Local governments are forced to deal with these impacts...from the inconsistency."
However, several speakers accused Zane and Brown of circumventing the democratic process.
"I do believe there's been a complete lapse by the county," Supervisor Ernest Carillo said, after expressing concern about the lack of stakeholder involvement.
Many said that reducing access will hurt patients who rely on marijuana while doing nothing to apprehend drug cartels.
"By reducing access, you hurt patients, not criminals," one speaker said.
But Supervisor David Rabbitt said allowing people to possess and grow higher quantities of marijuana has not reduced the crime associated with it, as some had envisioned.
"We do have a problem and we have to address that…It has become part of an underground economy for the North Bay and possibly beyond. My wife is an oncology nurse. If you're dying of a brain tumor, go for it. That's not what this is about. This is about how to police ourselves."
A retired deputy probation officer and cancer survivor told the Board, "The war on drugs has been lost. The only thing that will happen if you bring the number down is that you'll help the criminals."
In the end, the Board of Supervisors voted to eliminate the recommendation for repeal and to ask staff to work with the ad hoc committee to engage stakeholders in a collaborative process.
What do you think? Does marijuana contribute to crime? Or does restricting how much someone can carry and/or grow only reduce access for patients? Share your thoughts below.