Supervisors favor banning pot cultivation

Proposed ban would affect unincorporated areas

California voters may have approved the legalization of cannabis, but the Board of Supervisors in Santa Clara County, the state’s sixth-most populous county, has dropped plans to extend a moratorium on growing or selling cannabis, and instead is set to vote to ban pot growth altogether.

A temporary moratorium on the cultivation and sale of cannabis in unincorporated areas of the county imposed in 2017 ends Sept.12. Janice Rombeck, communication officer for Supervisor Dave Cortese, said supervisors will vote on the permanent ban Aug. 28, with a second reading on Sept. 11.

It would take 30 days for the ordinance to go into effect, meaning there would be a brief period between the moratorium expiration and the permanent ban. “No one expects that gap to have an impact on illegal cultivation,” said Rombeck.

Four of five supervisors would need to agree to extend the moratorium, but approval of a ban on cannabis sale and cultivation would require just three votes.

After Supervisors Cortese and Ken Yeager voted on Aug. 14 against extending the moratorium, the other supervisors decided to move forward with the ban.

In response to questions about the upcoming vote, Supervisor Mike Wasserman, whose District 1 includes Gilroy and Morgan Hill, wrote in an email, “This all comes down to the health, safety and environmental concerns surrounding cannabis cultivation in unincorporated county areas. We recently had to increase funding for the Sheriff’s Office to combat illegal grow operations, especially in the Santa Cruz Mountains.”

Cortese released a public statement following his vote voicing his concern over a permanent ban.

He said in an interview that he originally worried about extending the moratorium another year because he felt no progress had been made in understanding how to regulate cannabis in Santa Clara County.

A memorandum given to the supervisors on Aug. 14 outlined research conducted by staff on how to regulate cannabis. Cortese says the research did not ultimately provide any pathways for regulation. He felt the staff had simply outlined a path to banning cannabis all together.

Cortese believes a complete ban on pot in Santa Clara County will fail to keep communities safe. “To me that’s sticking your head in the sand,” said Cortese.

Cortese said he believes there is no research to suggest a ban would help make cannabis use safer or prevent illegal growing. “It’s going to put us in a position of looking like we’re Nancy Reagan,” he added.

What Cortese really wants is more direction by the supervisors for research on regulation. He says that the way things are now, moving forward with a ban would be “letting the criminals control how it’s dispensed.”

To reverse a ban would require a supervisor who had previously voted in favor of it to second a motion to overturn it. A second ordinance would then have to be introduced, which Cortese said is unlikely unless there is a political shift on the board. However, he did identify District 2 Supervisor Cindy Chavez as the most likely to change her position.

Chavez said there was a split among supervisors when it came to reacting to new cannabis laws: Cortese and Yeager, who do not support a ban, and Joseph Simitian and Wasserman, who favor a ban. “There really are two strong minds on the board,” said Chavez.

Chavez said she wants to keep the children in her community and her district safe. Banning commercial pot cultivation, she added, would effectively make the moratorium permanent and would not change how cannabis is being handled in unincorporated Santa Clara County.

Like Cortese, Chavez is worried about the regulation of cannabis, saying not enough is being done to ensure it was being properly cultivated and sold. “We have to make sure that any step we take is really protective of young people in our community,” said Chavez.

She wants to continue to explore ways cannabis can be regulated within the county. Chavez said, “my feeling is there is no risk to getting more information and see how other communities are addressing the concerns raised.”

Chavez said she couldn’t say that cannabis would never be allowed in unincorporated Santa Clara County and made it clear a ban could be overturned.

Supervisors cited a report that the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Marijuana Eradication Team had seized 5,793 illegally grown marijuana plants in the first five months of this year.

Cortese said the best way to deal with cannabis in the county would not be an all-out ban, but with regulations to prevent black market sale and cultivation of the crop.