Council retreats on cannabis cultivation ban

Winters City Council returns strict ban on cannabis cultivation to planning commission for review.

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The Winters City Council deviated from a planning commission recommendation in an effort to better represent Winters residents at the Tuesday, Nov. 7, meeting.

The city needed to update cannabis language in the municipal code in order to keep up with rapid changes in state law. However, a city staff suggestion to ban outdoor growth of cannabis within city limits created some friction at City Hall.

The ban proposal was based on odor complaints from one residence where medical cannabis cardholders have formed a collective in order to grow their plants in one backyard, which is legal according to the state.

The planning commission moved this recommendation to city council, although it was not unanimous. Commissioner Dave Adams was vocal about the harm this change would bring to residents who grow cannabis for medicinal use and may not be able to afford the electricity costs of indoor growing.

“This ordinance is really designed to bring the municipal code into compliance with state law,” said city manager John Donlevy, “It prohibits commercial cultivation and it prohibits outdoor cultivation.

“The worst case of what we’ve been dealing with in town, there are 24 plants in the backyard… the main issue that we’ve dealt with is odor. The backyard is unlivable.

“The issue is not the legalization of marijuana; it’s this. It affects each one of the houses.”

Council member Jesse Loren was the first to speak to the proposed ban.

“It’s an extreme measure to a smaller problem,” she said. “All six precincts passed (Proposition) 64. That data begs the question: Are we overreaching the needs of our voters? Do we ban speakers? Do we ban dogs?”

Resident Kath Woodman proposed that while collectives might be restricted to outside city limits, the amount that she grows is not a problem.

“The odor is not bad whatsoever. My neighbors have never complained,” said Woodman.

Resident Brian Bellamy also urged the board to take more caution with the issues.

“Sometimes when you just hear the reports it sets up some biases about those things,” he said. “Take more time with this.”

In a letter sent to the council and read by Kristin Wright at the meeting, Express editor Debra DeAngelo also voiced concern for injustice, calling restrictions “rife with prejudice.”

“We voted for this,” said resident John Crespo. “If you make people grow indoors, they can’t afford it. You make a law-abiding citizen un-law-abiding.”

David Springer, who co-authored the city’s climate action plan, urged the council to reconsider because indoor growing uses an unsustainable amount of energy, harming the environment.

City attorney Ethan Walsh stated that the council has the ability to limit the extent of outdoor growth without criminalizing the practice.

“There’s about as wide of a variety of solutions as one can imagine,” he said.

“It’s a Class I drug by the federal government. We would still be violating that,” said Council Member Bill Biasi.

“We’re not here to litigate federal law,” countered Loren, “That is no the job of the local police to prosecute. We’re being asked to serve the community.”

“As a city, we’re really a subdivision of the state,” said Walsh. “We really operate on state law.”

Loren also pointed out that a ban on outdoor growth may make the city ineligible for grant money to help citys regulate cannabis.

“Those are all valid points that should be taken into consideration under further review,” said mayor Wade Cowan.

While there were diverse concerns among the council, they agreed to continue the conversation about cannabis regulation with the inclusion of the public.

Following the meeting, Donlevy stated in his Friday update email, which are also posted for the public at www.cityofwinters.org/city-managers-update/, that the issue will go before the planning commission again.

“Staff recommendation on the total prohibition of outdoor cultivation was definitely premature. The public hearing had a number of current cultivators presenting some really good suggestions and arguments on ways to allow personal cultivation without it becoming a nuisance,” stated Donlevy.

 

City manager contract

   The council unanimously approved the extension of Donlevy’s contract for employment to Dec. 31, 2021. Donlevy has dedicated his service to the city as the longest tenured city manager in Yolo County.

“There are very few in the U.S. who have lasted as long as John has,” said Cowan, “The average for the state is four years and the average for the country is eight years.”

 

Next meeting

   The council meets next on Tuesday, Nov. 21, at 6:30 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall. The only agenda item at press time was a second reading on the city’s cannabis ordinance, pertaining mainly to language in the ordinance.

All Winters residents are welcome to attend.

 

 

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