Business / Economy

Supervisors to use committee approach to get public input on medical marijuana

Ad hoc committee approach means that two or more public meetings will be held to gather the public's perspective

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the formation of an ad hoc committee, headed by supervisors Jerry Muenzer and Anthony Botelho, that will assist the board in reviewing and preparing a medical marijuana ordinance. At their last board meeting, the supervisors backtracked on an ordinance to ban cultivation of outdoor medical marijuana. One of the recommendations that came out of that meeting was to form a committee to review input from interested individuals.

The topic of the Oct. 20 board meeting was what form the committee would take. The two choices were ad hoc and a standing committee. An ad hoc committee would hold two or more public meetings to be held at a convenient time and place for the public to attend. A standing committee would require the Clerk of the Board to post a notice of vacancy that the public could respond to in order to be considered for the committee.

Attorney Aaron Johnson, who represents the Coastal Growers Association and was one of those who spoke against the ordinance at the last meeting, offered to be a part of any committee.

“At the last meeting we heard a date of March 1, 2016, to have a cultivation ordinance in place,” he said. “We expect some clean-up bills in Sacramento that might change that, but we can’t rely on that. My concern with going with the standing committee approach is the time it takes to get people together to formerly assemble this committee and get to the point where work is accomplished as a group. That might not give you enough time to adopt an ordinance by March 1.”

Johnson said whatever approach upon which the supervisors decided, he wanted to remind them that the organization is interested in participating in the process.

“If you go with the ad hoc approach we will definitely attend meetings and offer any input that we can from the legal medical cannabis community,” he said.

Kristina Chavez Wyatt, president of Farmhouse Communications, said that regardless of the approach of a subcommittee or ad hoc task force, she highly recommend there be several public meetings.

“We have had a lot more community members who would be more interested in the subject matter given the interest at every level,” she said. “I highly recommend we engage the healthcare industry, caregivers, hospices, doctors and clinic staff, and the education community.”

Chavez Wyatt said the high school community, specifically, has expressed interest in participating in the discussion. She also said the farming community is particularly interested on an economic basis.

“There’s interest in cultivating hemp,” she said. “I’ve talked to the Farm Bureau and those who might be interested in cultivating medical cannabis, as well as possible changes in the law later this year and with the elections next year.”

Hollister resident Ann Ross said there is no need for a committee to figure out how to handle the marijuana issue.

“It’s your call, as far as I’m concerned,” she challenged the supervisors. “Right now, the law is, ‘you don’t grow it unless you have a reason to.’ We don’t know who those people are and it’s not really the time to get together. We can do all that with our agriculture area when the time comes. To let it be out of your control right now is not right. I don’t think a committee pushing it off to establish an ordinance later on is the way to go.”

Supervisor Anthony Botelho spoke in favor of the ad hoc approach, saying it would be the most expedient way to get an ordinance in place. Supervisor Margie Barrios agreed with him.

“I recommend if we do go down that route that it is established that they would be public and making sure that all the stakeholders are invited would be a good idea,” she said. “My recommendation is that there are established meeting dates and they are advertised.”

Supervisor Robert Rivas said he also was in favor of the ad hoc approach and added, “I think this is an important subject that will go beyond a year, so if we start off with an ad hoc approach we can identify members for a standing committee if we think this topic is important, especially with the election next year.”

Supervisor Jerry Muenzer said he was fine with whatever form the committee takes.

“My concern, whichever way we go, is that we definitely have the community involved, which I don’t think we did when the ordinance came to us,” he said. “We need to establish who, from the community, can represent medical marijuana and be at the table.”

After voting unanimously for the ad hoc approach, with assurance that there would be two or more meetings would be public, Barrios appointed Botelho and Muenzer to head the committee.

“Not all of the meetings will be public, but when the do hold public meetings they will be advertised,” Barrios said.  “We can go one step further and make sure that all the supervisors are aware of when those meetings are being held.”

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]