County announces cannabis survey results

While the future of the commercial cannabis industry in unincorporated Colusa County didn’t get any clearer at Monday night’s special meeting of the Board of Supervisors, they will be back during the second week of June to discuss their options once again.

While the board was not scheduled to take any action after hearing the results of the cannabis workshops and survey conducted by De Novo Planning Group in recent months, county staff did ask for the board’s direction on how to proceed. The four person board (Kim Dolbow Vann’s last meeting as a supervisor was on May 15) was initially split on how to move forward. Supervisors Gary Evans and John Loudon came out in favor of staying the course, keeping the county’s current cannabis ordinance in place, and keeping commercial cannabis operations out of the county.

Kent Boes and Denise Carter, on the other hand, suggested that further study should be conducted on the costs and benefits related to allowing certain commercial cannabis activities – indoor cultivation, and manufacturing and processing, respectively. Both Boes and Carter favored putting the matter out to the voters again in November. While she noted it had failed in Colusa County in 2016, Carter said she wondered whether the voters’ opinion on cannabis had changed since the state passed Proposition 64, and said that the decision on whether to proceed should be left in the hands of the county’s electorate. Boes agreed on the advisory measure, and suggested overlay zones in the communities that wanted to allow certain commercial cannabis operations, according to the survey. Both Boes and Carter suggested that hemp be explored separately as a potential commercial crop.

Ultimately, the four supervisors arrived at a compromise, agreeing to bring the item back during a meeting in the second week of June. They also directed staff to explore their deadlines for getting an advisory measure on the ballot for November.

Ben Ritchie, principal at De Novo Planning Group, presented the results from the survey to the board prior to public comment and board deliberation. The results of the survey indicated that, as a whole, a small majority of the county indicated that they would definitely not be in favor of indoor cultivation.

“About 44 percent came out in some flavor of the yes camp,” said Ritchie, adding that there were two effective ‘yes’ answers – one indicating an unqualified yes, and the other with the condition that the industry be heavily controlled and regulated.

The county-wide sentiment for outdoor was notably less favorable, with 65 percent of survey takers coming out against outdoor commercial grows. Around 56 percent of respondents said that they were definitely against processing or manufacturing. The top concern raised on the survey, by far, related to public safety and crime: 64 percent of respondents indicated that was their top concern. ‘No concerns’ was a distant second, followed by odors, then environmental issues, and finally increases in traffic. The top concerns raised on the open-ended responses on surveys were potential impact on children and teens, potential increases in noise, reduction in morale for longstanding citizens, and a desire to avoid non-residents setting up operations within the county without regard for the local culture.

The top concerns raised at the community workshops, in order, were crime and increased funding required for law enforcement activities, corruption and tax avoidance, cannabis’ federal illegality, clean up of poorly-run operations, public nuisances such as odors and increased wast in the county, water contamination from cultivation, increased risk of fire and explosions, people moving into the county from outside of the county, and potential harm to the county’s reputation. The top benefits listed by attendees were that people who need it could buy it from a reputable source and not have to travel, increased tax revenues for the county, fewer drug dealers on the streets, and the creation of more jobs.

“We also hear folks mention things along the lines of private property rights – that they should be able to grow what they want on their property,” Ritchie said.

A total of 121 people showed up at the various community forums across the county, 388 people responded to the survey online, and 78 handed in hard-copy surveys. De Novo broke down the online surveys according to population. Colusa, Williams and Maxwell all indicated they would be in favor of indoor cultivation. All seven communities were against outdoor cultivation, and only Colusa appeared to be OK with manufacturing and processing uses.

Numerous residents spoke at the meeting, the majority of them against allowing commercial cannabis operations in unincorporated Colusa County. Mike Reardon of Maxwell said that the numbers returned from the survey didn’t match what he saw at the community meeting.

“I’m part of an older generation, and I want no part of this in Maxwell,” Reardon said. “This is a rural area, and we don’t need to bring urban problems in our town. Just because the people in Sacramento pushed this onto us, there’s no reason we have to go with them.”
Fellow Maxwell resident Marion Mathis also voiced her opposition to commercial cannabis in the county. Jen Turkleson, of Williams, said she was 100 percent opposed.

Colusa residents Jim White, Janice Bell, and Russ Phillips all commented that they weren’t keen on commercial cannabis operations. Charles Yerxa, another Colusa resident, suggested that by opening up the county to commercial cannabis, it would pull companies away from downtown Colusa. Phillips said that if commercial cannabis belonged anywhere, it was in an industrial park.

County Auditor-Controller Peggy Hickel Scroggins asked the supervisors if they had studied what the increased county costs would be if they allowed commercial cannabis operations, and what revenue it would bring to the county – urging them to do so before making any decisions, or putting the issue out to the voters.

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net