Whether the word "medical" should precede "marijuana" depends on who you talk to — there are divergent opinions when it comes to Yuba County's cannabis cultivation ordinance.
For those in favor of tighter restrictions, connecting "medical" and "marijuana" is misleading. It goes against what they believe is the primary reason for marijuana grow sites — to make money.
"I believe that the term 'medical marijuana' is mostly a front for their operations," said foothills resident Buck Weckman of Families Against Cannabis Trafficking, or FACT. "This is about people trafficking marijuana for profit."
For those opposing the stricter new county ordinance, the "medical" description accents what they say is the main issue — helping patients get relief via medical marijuana.
"The county's scorched earth policy against medical marijuana growers has destroyed any trust between the county and patients," the Yuba County-based Yuba Patients Coalition said in a statement.
The group states "it is time that patients' rights are respected and that bans and prohibition become extinct."
Whether or not it's appropriate to impose outdoor growing bans or restrict indoor plants, the back and forth has resulted in confusion for those not intimately involved in the issue.
In Yuba County, there are potential ballot initiatives related to the county's medical marijuana growing ordinance; there are lawsuits and the Board of Supervisors on whether landlords should be held responsible for cannabis grown by tenants; and there's uncertainty about how state legislation aimed at marijuana enforcement or referendum petitions will affect local ordinances and enforcement.
One legislator told The Associated Press earlier this year the medical marijuana industry resembles the "wild, wild West."
In Yuba County, it started last spring when the Board of Supervisors approved a new cultivation ordinance that bans outdoor growing and limits indoor plants to a dozen in a qualified accessory structure. The move was done in response to an increase in county marijuana grows and residents who complained about increased cannabis activity.
In an effort to sort things out a bit, here's a look at the opposition, the supporters, local enforcement, legal challenges and the potential ballot measures.
Anti-marijuana groups form
In several Northern California counties where medical marijuana cultivation is an issue, groups have formed to fight efforts at loosening growing restrictions.
They all cite alleged increases in criminal activity and downgrades in quality of life where cannabis grows exist. And they all claim grows mostly exist for commercial rather than for medical purposes.
In Yuba County, it's Families Against Cannabis Trafficking, or FACT, led by Buck Weckman, an active county Republican.
"When I first started, I had some sympathies for those using marijuana for medical purposes," Weckman said. "But when it gets exposed, they are such a small percentage. It's had a bad effect on society as a whole."
Weckman said FACT doesn't keep a membership roster, but a list of 194 email addresses is sent the group's regular newsletter outlining local and statewide cannabis news. Its Facebook site has 154 "likes" and was accessed by 466 people during a recent week, he said.
While FACT isn't registered with the state as a political action committee, it may do so when its required by the Fair Political Practices Commission, he said.
"I believe the efforts ... to increase the use of marijuana and lessen regulations controlling its use is being promoted by the marijuana industry with the intent of making money on an addicted populace," Weckman said in a statement.
FACT has also formed alliances with other statewide organizations, including Citizens Against Legalization of Marijuana.
Pro-pot groups turn to courts
It's easy to lump all of those supporting less restrictive marijuana growing regulations in the county into one large grouping. But groups like Yuba Patients Coalition and Citizens for Solvency take pains to keep themselves separate.
"These are entirely separate efforts," said a statement from Yuba Patients Coalition. "Please understand that we are all family in the end, working toward the same ultimate goal, but we do this in our own diverse ways."
Yuba Patients Coalition is largely focused on legal battles and on supporting statewide pro-cannabis issues. It was also at the forefront of the failed effort to recall Supervisor Andy Vasquez, which was connected to the medical marijuana issue.
Citizens for Solvency, describing itself as a group of business owners, is pushing a voter initiative to replace the county's new growing ordinance with one that is less restrictive.
And still another, the Sacramento-based Safe Patient Access to Regulated Cannabis, has been given the go-ahead to circulate petitions to allow cannabis dispensaries in Yuba County.
Yuba Patients Coalition, formerly Yuba County Growers Association, has been around the longest, helping county supervisors develop their previous ordinance under a court order.
The coalition describes a "current environment of persecution toward both patients and growers."
"Our group has spoken to thousands of voters in this county over the past eight months," the Coalition said in a statement. "We found the majority who don't use it or grow it are supportive.
"The entire community is aware that real estate prices have plummeted. The illegal gardens didn't stop, and the real criminals are still doing their worst."
Many potential measures on the ballot
Yuba County Clerk Terry Hansen said earlier the medical marijuana issue has resulted in an unprecedented number of potential special election ballot measures.
The status of those efforts follows:
• Citizens for Solvency last week filed initiative petitions with Yuba County election officials to replace the county's new cultivation ordinance with one that is less restrictive.
Election workers have until Dec. 21 to determine whether 2,483 of 3,355 signatures are of registered voters. If they are, it would force a special countywide election on whether it should be the new law.
• Safe Patient Access to Regulated Cannabis has until Feb. 23 to file petitions seeking a countywide election on whether medical marijuana dispensaries should be allowed. There are currently no zoning provisions to do so.
• Initiative petitions seeking a ban on the sale of Yuba County groundwater outside the county has its origins in the medical marijuana issue. Initiative supporters have until Nov. 17 to file petitions.
• A recall effort backed by Yuba Patients Coalition against Supervisor Andy Vasquez fell short of having enough signatures to force an election.
Recall supporters have requested District Attorney Pat McGrath file criminal charges against Vasquez's campaign over a mailer they say constituted a threat. McGrath has yet to respond.
Vasquez was also cleared by the Fair Political Practices Commission of a complaint he failed to report his radio talk show as a non-monetary contribution on campaign statements.
Ordinance prompts enforcement
Yuba County's new medical marijuana cultivation ordinance, along with the addition of new code enforcement officers hired by the county, has prompted increased enforcement.
That has in turn resulted in a series of appeals and assessment hearings before the Board of Supervisors on fines and penalties imposed by the county.
Code enforcement officials last week said the number of enforcement actions taken since the ordinance was adopted wasn't available.
Along with a lawsuit challenging the new ordinance itself, two additional actions have been filed contesting the practice of holding property owners financially responsible for their tenant's gardens.
In legal actions against Yuba County:
• Yuba Patients Coalition and six individuals have filed suit against Yuba County challenging the constitutionality of the new medical marijuana cultivation ordinance. No formal hearing date has yet been set, but a case management conference is scheduled Nov. 16.
• Jon and Amy Messick received a favorable ruling from a Yuba County judge in their lawsuit against the county over whether they should be assessed penalties resulting from a tenant's marijuana grow. The county is planning to file an appeal with the Third District Court of Appeal.
• Jesus and Maria Torres filed a separate lawsuit late last month similar to that filed by the Messicks. No court date has yet been set.
State Legislature approves three marijuana bills
Along with widely-varied local controls on marijuana cultivation that differ from county to county, the state Legislature in the past session approved three separate cannabis bills.
It's unclear how much affect they will have on local ordinances, but the consensus seems to be local laws will remain intact. All three bills have been signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The bills are:
• SB 243: Requires cities and counties to coordinate with state agencies to enforce laws addressing the environmental affects of medical marijuana cultivation.
• AB 266: Enacts the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act for licensing and regulation of medical cannabis through the state Department of Consumer Affairs. It will also require the state Board of Equalization, in consultation with the Department of Food and Agriculture, develop a system for reporting the commercial movement of cannabis products.
• Senate Bill 643: Requires standards for physicians prescribing medical marijuana and requires the Medical Board of California to prioritize investigations and discipline of physicians "that have repeatedly recommended excessive cannabis to patients for medical purposes ..."
Along with the three bills, there are statewide efforts to bring the legalization of medical marijuana cultivation to a statewide vote next year.
The consensus is the proposed Adult Use of Marijuana Act has the strongest financial backing. It would allow adults 21 and over to buy an ounce of marijuana and marijuana-infused products at licensed retail outlets and to grow up to six plants for personal recreational use.