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Zoning Has Medical Pot Growers Puffing

EDITOR’S NOTE:Because of the sensitive nature of this story, most growers of medical cannabis were unwilling to comment on the topic. Those that were did so on the condition of anonymity.

PACIFIC COUNTY — Proponents of collective medical cannabis gardens say the county’s new ordinance regulating such facilities is cost prohibitive and unlikely to change the secretive nature of growing the drug for patients.

Ordinance 162 was passed by the county commissioners on Dec. 20. Section 25 lists rules for collective medical cannabis gardens under a conditional use permit in industrial zones only.

Emily Anderson, a lifestyle and wellness consultant and North Cove precinct committee officer, has spoke out in the past on behalf of constituents who grow medical cannabis.

She questioned why county planners zoned the gardens in industrial areas.

“It should not be in industrial at all,” she said. “It should be zoned in agriculture.”

Mike Stevens, senior planner at the Pacific County Department of Community Development, said: “Number 1, we wanted to make sure there was a location for it; we didn’t want it to be too close to residential areas … public parks, schools, daycare centers, things like that. Then, the growing and harvesting, production of it fit more with an industrial use than with any other type of land use.”

Community Development Director Faith Taylor-Eldred added, “The planning commission kept going back to the word ‘processing,’” which fits more into manufacturing and industrial zoning.

Some medical cannabis growers complained that the county was trying zone collective gardens out of existence before they can even begin.

Tim Crose, assistant director at Community Development, rejects this criticism. “The planning commission, they didn’t want this to be just a bunch of language,” he said. “They wanted to find an area that could actually be used. Not just something in the ordinance that could never be used … They wanted to make sure there would be some areas that qualified.”

Among the other criticisms Anderson offered for Ordinance 162 was the requirement that the medical cannabis be grown and processed in a building.

She said the rules regulating building security will actually draw unnecessary attention to the garden. The requirement for monitored security, lighted doorways and bars on the windows will be very conspicuous, she said. “The thing that deters most people is an NRA bumper sticker on the car in the driveway,” she said.

Meet the Growers

For one medical cannabis user and grower, referred to here as “Jane,” a collective garden has no appeal no matter what the ordinance says.

“I wouldn’t go into a garden that size,” the Pacific County resident said. “Growing is so personal; everybody has their own idea of how to do it.”

A collective garden with up to 10 people runs a risk of conflict over growing techniques, fertilizers and other technical issues, she said, not to mention ensuring equal distribution of the final product.

Anderson said a medical cannabis grower she represents expressed frustration about the tremendous expense involved in finding industrial land with a building and installing the significant security systems required in Ordinance 162.

It would simply make the medicine more expensive for patients, Anderson said.

Anderson’s constituent plans to continue to grow under the existing state laws.

Jane also takes issue with government monitoring of the operation and knowing too much about each medical user. “A tremendous amount of people think big brother knows too much already,” she said.

Learning to Grow

Jane and her husband started growing medical cannabis in December 2011. She suffers from multiple ailments; he was being treated for prostate cancer and also suffers from other ailments.

The learning curve Jane described was more of a vertical line for the novices. Their first crop suffered from spider mites, mildew, gnats and other problems.

“Our first crop was so spindly because we kept washing it,” she said.

She read books, researched online and studied blogs for tips on growing, and a pattern emerged.

“If you read the blogs and watch the videos they all say ‘organic, organic, organic,” she said. “It was such an eye-opener to me.” Concern for crop and grower safety is key, she said. So she uses no pesticides or other chemicals on the cannabis.

Keeping up the plants is no easy task, Jane said. They require different watering schedules and even amounts of light depending on the maturity of the plant. “It’s a flat-out job,” she said.

Your Friends and Neighbors

Jane hopes people who have never been exposed to marijuana will understand that medical cannabis users are just regular people. She laments that the federal government has yet to recognize this.

“They still see us as dangerous criminals,” she said, pointing out a 2011 memo from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reported in USA Today indicating “any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes, is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance, and is prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.”


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