New Cannabis Prohibitions in Santa Cruz County

On March 24, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 before an overflowing room to ban the cultivation of cannabis in all unincorporated territories of the county, with limited exceptions. Personal grows of 10×10 square feet are still permitted, with restrictions. Outdoor cultivation is entirely banned in the 2nd District, represented by Zach Friend, and includes the communities of Aptos, Corralitos, Freedom, and portions of Watsonville.

The vote amended the Santa Cruz County Code by deleting the existing Chapter 7.126, passed on February 11, 2014, in its entirety, and adding a new Chapter 7.126. The new version of the code drastically reduces the legal rights of patients to cultivate and access the wide-range of medicines they depend upon from the cannabis plant.

Download and Read Exhibit A (7 pages)

The February 2014 version of Chapter 7.126 includes “Section 7.126.040 Limited immunity for medical cannabis cultivation business.” This section allowed for collective cultivation and distribution for use among its members, which is the model used by the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance. Collective cultivation allows patients to work together to produce their medicine, just like community vegetable gardens where resources, labor, and harvests are shared.

Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. Left to right: Bruce McPherson, 5th District; John Leopold, 1st; Greg Caput, 4th; Zach Friend, 2nd; and Ryan Coonerty, 3rd
Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. Left to right: Bruce McPherson, 5th District; John Leopold, 1st; Greg Caput, 4th; Zach Friend, 2nd; and Ryan Coonerty, 3rd

There were three recommendations and two proposals, referred to as Exhibits A & B, presented by the County Staff to the Board of Supervisors for the March 24 meeting. Staff was clear to say they were only presenting, and not recommending, Exhibit B which they said would allow for commercial cultivation.

The three recommendations were as follows:

1. To consider and enact the draft ordinance, Exhibit A, entitled “Ordinance Repealing Chapter 7.126 Of The Santa Cruz County Code And Adopting New Chapter 7.126 Prohibiting The Commercial Cultivation of Cannabis;”

2. Direct the Planning Department to schedule community informational workshops to educate the public on the new ordinance; and

3. Direct the County Administrative Officer to return with a proposal to raise the Cannabis Business Tax rate in conjunction with budget hearings.

The Board of Supervisors voted to adopt Exhibit A.

The Board did not vote to raise the already absurd tax placed on the backs of patients, which is currently about 7%, but can get as high as 10%, as a result of measures K for Santa Cruz County and L for the City of Santa Cruz, which passed on November 4, 2014.

The Staff report states, “The 100 square foot personal grows allow patients or their caregivers to grow a very large amount of cannabis for their personal use (comparatively, other Counties allow much smaller personal grows). We believe that County residents will have the ability to obtain a sufficient amount of cannabis to meet their medical needs. In order to put an end to the serious and increasing problems the County is seeing as a result of the commercial cultivation of cannabis, County Staff strongly recommends that your Board enact the ordinance attached as Exhibit A.”

The recommendations were signed by Dana McRae, County Counsel; Susan A. Mauriello, Chief Administrative Officer; Jim Hart, Sheriff-Coroner; and Kathy Previsich, Planning Director. At the meeting, these Staff members gave a multimedia presentation focused on environmental degradation resulting from cannabis cultivation. They spoke out against what they called a Gold Rush in Santa Cruz County since February 2014.

Following the presentation from County Staff, including the Sheriff’s Department, there were three hours of public testimony, mostly in support of medical cannabis.

A theme of the speakers calling for tighter restrictions on medical cannabis was that they support small grows, but oppose large-scale commercial grows which harm the environment and their quality of life. Many people who spoke in favor of tighter restrictions said they live in either Boony Doon or Larkin Valley, opposite sides of the county, where they have seen significant changes in the last couple of years.

Nearly everyone who spoke before the Supervisors said they were against environmental degradation. Valerie Corral of The Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), a world-famous collective of patients and caregivers who helped to establish California’s Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (Proposition 215), stated that Santa Cruz County should lead the way with organic methods for sustainable cannabis production, as opposed to Monsanto and Phillip Morris brand cannabis.

WAMM has been granted special status, by both the federal and local governments, to collectively cultivate and provide for their members. However, the county’s new Cannabis Business Tax has been enforced on WAMM patients since early 2015, even though WAMM is a well-known, federally recognized, non-profit collective and non-business entity. This even includes members who financially are unable to reimburse WAMM for the cost of production. These members still receive medicine from the collective, but they must pay the Cannabis Business Tax for the value of their donated medicine.

Ben Rice, a widely-known and influential defense attorney, stated he represents many people in the room, and the new ordinance is a step backwards for Santa Cruz County. Rice, who famously represents WAMM, was actually the proponent of Measures K and L, the Cannabis Business Tax for Santa Cruz County and the City of Santa Cruz.

Allen Hopper, a Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Director at ACLU of Northern California, testified that he was concerned that patients will be targeted even though Sheriff Hart said they won’t be.

John Callahan, a retired veteran, declared that a mandated setback of 600 feet would be an unfair burden preventing him from producing cannabis. The new ordinance which was passed states, “If cultivation takes place outdoors, evidence of cultivation shall not be visible from any public right-of-way.”

A woman speaking on behalf of her friend Amanda, who has severe epilepsy and was unable to attend the meeting, stated that cannabis delivery services are vital. For example, many people who have epileptic seizures are prohibited from driving. The new ordinance bans all cannabis delivery services in Santa Cruz County, leaving patients and their caregivers with only inadequate options.

I asked Jason Sweatt, a US Army combat veteran and the director of the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance (SCVA), how the new ordinance would impact their collective. He replied, “It’s already impacted us. We got red-tagged for an indoor cultivation facility in a commercial zone.”

Speaking before the Board, Aaron Newsom, a co-founder and patient of SCVA rightly complained that “all rights are going to dispensaries and none to collectives.” Newsom elaborated that SCVA helps provide veterans with top quality medical cannabis, many of whom suffer from a tremendous range of physical and mental conditions, such as PTSD, depression, and other mental illnesses which lead many veterans to suicide.

After the meeting, the SCVA wrote in a tweet, “Horribly disappointed with the outcome of today’s vote on cannabis cultivation in Santa Cruz.”

At the January 27, 2015 meeting, Supervisor Zach Friend of District 2 addressed the room full of Santa Cruz County residents and warned, “you’re lucky you don’t live in Riverside,” referring to the conservative-leaning county in southern California which enacted an outright ban on outdoor cannabis cultivation.

Exhibit A for the new Santa Cruz County ordinance outlines that, “on May 6, 2013, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, Inc. (“Inland Empire”), that California’s medical cannabis laws do not preempt local ordinances that ban medical cannabis facilities; and that local police power derived from Article XI, section 7, of the California Constitution includes broad authority to determine […] the appropriate uses of land within a local jurisdiction.”

Pat, who described himself as a small-time family cultivator, replied to Zach Friend’s statement from two months ago by emphasizing, “You’re lucky you don’t live in Riverside, because none of you would have gotten elected there. You were elected to represent us.”

Another person stated, “Patients deserve safe and affordable access to medicine,” and went on to explain that under the new ordinance, “Patients will be forced into the shadows instead of welcomed into the light.”

Cannabis also has a major affect on the economy of Santa Cruz County, as expressed by man who proclaimed, “Santa Cruz has a reputation for growing some of the best marijuana in the world. We’re a leader. I’m not a grower or patient.”

Trevor Luxon of Live Oak, an attorney working with Ben Rice and an epilepsy patient, said “medical marijuana is not going to leave Santa Cruz County, but it will be driven underground.”

Taylor, a patient and resident of Santa Cruz, stressed that, “it’s essential to have access to delivery services with a variety of strains.” She uses cannabis to effectively treat her debilitating mental conditions. In closing, Taylor powerfully and unapologetically declared, “My medicine helps me and my family, and it keeps me happy and healthy. If my medicine offends you, then you probably don’t see it as a medicine.”

A combat wounded veteran and member of SCVA testified that, “the ordinance will cause people to seek dangerous pharmaceuticals from a flawed VA [Veterans Affairs] system.”

Jason Matthys, founder of Cannabis Advocates Alliance of Santa Cruz County, told the Board of Supervisors that, “non-dispensary collectives are vital to patients.”

Another patient followed by informing the Supervisors, “If you juice cannabis, it takes a lot more than if you smoke it. And that hasn’t been vetted here. A 10×10 won’t work for us.”

Flyers for the Cannabis Advocates Alliance were distributed after the meeting.
Flyers for the Cannabis Advocates Alliance were distributed after the meeting.

Manuel Raquel, a 5th district resident represented by Supervisor Bruce McPherson, told the Board that she makes a cannabis salve, which requires 1 lb of flowers to produce 1 oz of salve, and therefore the new proposal won’t work her situation.

John, a resident homeowner for over 35 years in Santa Cruz County and a cancer survivor, said, “Cannabis is just like wine. We need to get over the stigma.” John further emphasized, “Don’t step back in time by putting prohibition back in place. We’re a progressive county.”

Section “7.126.030 Prohibited activities” in the new ordinance states that, “Cultivation can only take place on a parcel that includes the residence of the patient or caregiver, and cultivation is limited to one resident per parcel.”

Speaking before the Board, a Ben Lomond resident said, “a 10×10 outdoor grow won’t cut it for the medical needs of my family.”

Somebody else raised the point that, “People have a right to know how their medicine is grown and who it is grown by.”

No rationale was given by the County Staff or Board of Supervisors, either in their report or at the meeting, as to why multiple family members are now restricted to sharing a single, inadequate, 10×10 plot.

Attorney Sasha Brodsky, representing the Cannabis Advocates Alliance, urged Board members, “Let’s address all these community concerns and formalize them using third-party compliance for cannabis cultivation.”

Despite all the sensible and heart-felt testimony against the new ordinance, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors approved it in a 3-2 vote. Supervisors Ryan Coonerty and John Leopold were able to maintain, and probably elevate, their undeserved status as progressive politicians, by casting the dissenting votes, which tangibly amount to nothing, since the ordinance passed anyway.

After the Board of Supervisors meeting I caught up with Jason Matthys of the Cannabis Advocates Alliance (CAA) and asked for his feedback. Matthys states, “We want everything that the county wants; safe communities and protection for the environment. But we want to do it in a way that doesn’t harm patients.”

Matthys elaborated, “We need diversity of medicine, products, and producers. One strain that works well for one patient may not work for another. If the county moves to restrict cultivation to very few producers, then there will be increased incentive to grow only high-yielding, high-THC strains, and many of the heirloom and rare strains of cannabis may be lost forever.”

For people who are concerned about patient access to safe cannabis medicine in Santa Cruz, Matthys suggested, “People can contact the Board with their concerns. Contact information for the Board is available on the CAA website. We encourage and invite everyone to attend our meetings held most Wednesday nights, 7 PM, at the Louden Nelson Community Center in Santa Cruz. For updates and more information, visit the Cannabis Advocates Alliance (CAA) website, email us at [email protected], and connect with us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.”


Bradley Allen was born and raised in southern California and has lived in Santa Cruz since 2000. Medicinal cannabis is one of his many interests. All content is available for non-commercial reuse, on non-commercial websites. For other usage, please contact me. A link to this article is appreciated. Support and create local independent media.

Author: Bradley Allen

Bradley Allen is a reporter and photographer in the Monterey Bay Area, and a collective member of the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center (Indybay). Follow him on social media: @BradleySA.