NevadaCo Uncompassionate

Witless and Heartless: Nevada County Moves Against Compassion 053012

An analysis of regressive governance from the Fringe Editor


The Nevada County Board of Supervisors, on a vote of 4-1 passed an urgency ordinance banning cannabis dispensaries in the unincorporated areas of the county and putting an unreasonable burden on Prop 215 patients and providers.  Supervisor Terry Lampheir dissented, saying he was in favor of some ordinance, but not the one before the board, and he alone of the supervisors noted that more needed to be heard on the issue.

Terry Lamphier, the loan dissenting voice, recognizes the need for an ordinance, but not one which curtails the intention of Prop 215.

A decade and a half after Prop 215 was established to provide medical cannabis to California (even Nevada County) residents, the board of four decent citizens struck a fist at patients and providers in their county.  What would lead people of assumedly average intelligence to govern in such a regressive manner?

I’ll propose it was the result of people acting in context, and specifically, the context of the bureaucracy.  I’ll suggest that elected and at will staff conducted themselves in a predictable way and produced a predictably flawed product. 

The “bureaucracy” is a context, a place with rules that people act within.  The bureaucracy is a highly refined context, with layers of authority and pages and pages of policies, rules, regulations, ordinances and laws to work within.  The board of supervisors and all the other players were acting in the context of the bureaucracy, and they carefully followed the letter, if not the spirit, of the rules to finally do what they were going to do. 

As of Wednesday, May 9th, every medical cannabis cultivator in the County is out of compliance and subject to abatement within 5 days. The decision of an undefined Hearing Officer is final. Your only recourse will be to file an expensive lawsuit. Your rights as a property owner have been usurped to allow "any authorized agent of the County, the Sheriff or Code Enforcement officers to enter your premises "anytime during normal business hours" without notice or a warrant…

The only other option left voters, is to file an expensive lawsuit which Americans for Safe Access is in the process of doing. Mind you, this is our last resort rather than our first choice. We have consistently tried to find a compromise with Homeowners and the County Counsel and have made suggestions that would have protected their interests without sacrificing the rights of patients.  Patti Smith from Yubanet HERE

The Board passed legislation effecting the size, location and permitting of indoor and outdoor grows.  It banned dispensaries in the unincorporated area of the county.  We’ll note that this was the end of a series of events involving a number of departments and people both in and outside the county. 

The supervisors are five old white guys not unlike the board in Sierra County.  They are cautious because they want to be liked by the voters, and because they don’t want to go down in history as captain when the ship went down.  Like most such people, the supervisors are middle class, with middle class sensitivities and culture; like most Northern California legislators, they are politically “conservative”.

Sheriff Keith Royal and Nevada County staff have been trying to pass such a ban for over a year.  There is a trail of documents including planning commission minutes, planning department reports, memos from the sheriff, ordinances and amended ordinances showing how the rationale for the action was constructed.

The Planning Department did the leg work on the ordinance, keeping track of the various stages including public input, and making changes as directed by the board.  There is a clear pattern of exchanges indicating staff were working at the direction of the board, but the principle actor was Royal. 

Like all planning departments in the age of lawsuits and claims, staff conduct themselves as though every issue is an unexploded bomb, moving carefully and sweating out which wire to cut first on the detonator.  Typically there are environmental freakos on the left and land use freakos on the right to navigate between.

This issue found staff between the sheriff and off-the-street lackeys like the local anti-drug and alcohol group on one hand, and patients, providers, and medical marijuana advocates on the other.  It couldn’t have been much fun for staff, but they carefully followed all the steps the county uses to justify what it does.

Regardless the appearance of propriety, many of the “planning and building” portions of the ordinance are redundant; whenever an upgrade of electricity and plumbing are done, a permit and inspection are required. Further, it’s possible to have an indoor grow that uses LED lights, and consumes less electricity than an air conditioner.  Farther along in the ordinance odor control and “mold on the premises” indicate the prejudice.  If those constraints aren’t in place for similar kinds of installments, they are unfair for cannabis grows, and they pose an unnecessary burden for patients and providers.  Even so, it is adequate bureaucratic craftsmanship, considering the circumstances they were working under.



The DA is a kind of cop, and though the DA is supposed to be objective and to some degree mediate the behavior of the cops, they usually don’t.  Instead, they function as part of law enforcement machinery and when they admonish cops it’s usually for screwing up evidence or sloppy paperwork.  Again it is important to remember the social context people work in, and the culture that arises from interaction within that context.  There are “medical cannabis” friendly DAs, but not many.  More typically the DAs, even in counties which are pot dependent, are more “conservative”, again meaning “regressive” or resistant to change in the status quo.  Not surprisingly, instead of favoring people who want to use the medicine of their choice, the DA favored controlling, disallowing, prohibiting.


An urgent need: Keith Royal pushed the ban.

The driving force of the “urgent” ordinance, County Sheriff Keith Royal is a cop bureaucrat, and so has cop culture.  He chats with other cops and meets with other county sheriffs and probably watches too much crime on television.  The cop perspective of the world is also one of control.  Cops are supposed to maintain the general peace, and like any good bureaucrat, Royal doesn’t like things that make interest grabbing headlines.  Nevada County has no shortage of front page crime stories, or stories of cops killing people and people killing each other.  In a class of bureaucrat county sheriffs, Royal is clearly no different and certainly no better than average. 

Royal, in presenting “evidence” for the ordinance haphazardly mixed anecdotes about criminal activity against legal med can growers, users, and dispensaries (which the Sheriff should protect as he would protect one of his good old buddies’ liquor cabinet) and the activities of illegal grows and on the street cannabis deals.  In some instances the documents refer to yet more cops who report that illegal marijuana is being sold from dispensaries and so on, working hard to smear the illegitimacy of “criminal marijuana” with medical cannabis. 

Sociology recognizes the “degradation ceremony” across human social groups.  The ceremony, or ritual, typically goes like this: an individual or a “type” of individual is identified.  The person is demonstrated to be different from the group.  The difference is demonstrated to be harmful to the group.  The individual or type of individual is now treated as less than the group, and new rules apply to the degraded individual.  This ceremony is followed, and was first recognized, in the military, but whether it’s stoning an adulterous wife to death or hanging Christ from the cross, virtually every human group follows this logical trail to oppress, ostracize, or kill other people.  Keith Royal’s treatment of medical cannabis patients and providers follows this ceremony exactly.


Let’s pause, though, to consider the “health and safety” phrase which gives the board of supervisors the legal justification for the action they took.

It is certainly true that there is a hell of a lot of pot grown in Nevada County, and we’d be uninformed to think it would be otherwise.  The county has the misfortune of being a handy drive from metropolitan Sacramento.  The area has a ready supply of Mexican or Asian workers, all of whom need money just like everyone else.  It has mountains with streams, it has rural properties.  The economy is in the toilet, and there are not many legitimate ways for the poor to make a decent living in Nevada County, so many grow some cannabis.  Cannabis production was once restricted to the most desperate people and the most remote places.  Prop 215 changed that, and allowed a new class of indoor grower to emerge.  There isn’t any evidence that more people are using cannabis, but the dispensaries and the “coop” system have made it better, safer, and by far, cheaper.  Even so, Royal’s concern over pot and crime that might arise from it is only partially “selective attention” on his part.  He no doubt does pay more attention to cannabis related robberies than he does to, say, liquor store robberies.  Liquor can be bought right in Sacramento, so there is no need for hordes to tramp to Nevada County to get it.  There is no doubt there are very large illegal grows in Nevada county, and some very desperate and dangerous people trading it as far away as the East Coast.

Even growing and dispensing medical cannabis is a gray area job, and so marginalized people do it.  Marginalized people are already more likely to know criminals that fine decent middle class people like the sher’f and his pals, and since in all human interactions, from marriage to murder, you are more likely to interact with people of your class and status, pot growers are more likely to be victimized than plumbers.

In other words, as the sheriff peers through the eyepieces of bias and prejudice, he does see real crime, he just doesn’t understand what he sees.  Royal doesn’t get and isn’t interested in the long view. He doesn’t want to perceive that reducing the price of marijuana reduces the profit motive and reduces the likelihood of associated crime.  It’s money people want when they steal pot.  When they want drugs, they break into the houses of old people and cancer patients and diabetics and steal drugs and syringes.

Following Royal’s patched together logic, parents should be banned because they’re associated with child neglect and abuse, and cars should be prohibited in Nevada County because they can be stolen, because kidnappers use them, and because they are a significant source of danger to the public, especially children. 

Nor was Royal’s interaction with the board particularly objective.  He kept pushing the board, though he increased the grow from a number of plants to a size limit and made a few other very modest compromises.  He did not, for example, make evidence available to the board that dispensaries don’t attract more crime than other businesses. He didn’t mention that legitimization, not degradation, is the way to control medical cannabis and all cannabis, even though the evidence is strong, because he has a cultural bias.

Royal used the “legitimacy” of realtors and other groups to play on the prejudices 4 of the board members likely demonstrate:

1.     People who use pot either aren’t really sick, or they have some strange untreatable hypochondria, since they would otherwise use a real doctor and drugs you get in a drug store;

2.     People who use pot are criminals and criminals are making money off the dispensaries (even though without a 215 letter you still have to pay top dollar for crap off the street)

3.     These people are degraded, and we can pass special laws just for them


I’ll suggest that the evidence points to this conclusion:

1.      The Sheriff of Nevada County can’t do his job, and so to make life easier, he’s going to restrict a “degraded” class of people.  

2.     Royal displays his bigotry and prejudice in the way he selectively presents evidence

3.     Planning staff would like to get retirement someday, and they just do what they’re told as professionally as they can

4.     The Nevada County Supervisors don’t understand the entire issue of marijuana, legal and illegal, and as long as they rely on staff, they never will;

5.     They have a cultural prejudice which allows 4 of 5 of them to selectively review data, ignore people in public hearings, violate the civil rights of their residents, and exceed their power in the face of the majority of California voters.


As Terry Lampheir predicted, the board’s action is already being challenged in court; the judge had postponed a decision to grant an injunction against the urgent ordinance.  Even so, the tide is against Royal and the Nevada County board of supervisors.  For example, in the boiler plate that staff provided as justification is, in addition to all the federal prohibitions, a claim that there are no definitions of dispensary.  But there are, and the courts in California (where Nevada county is,) continue to support dispensaries, including this recent decision described on Yubanet HERE which leaves stand the contention that people don’t have to “till the soil” in a cooperative, which is a form of dispensary.  


Counties like Nevada are failing their residents.  Instead of wasting staff time on repressive, cop-driven measures, the board should be finding new ways to permit, protect, and tax med can dispensaries.  Instead of trying to smear med can growers with the stain of criminal grows, the county should establish legitimate opportunities for ma and pa to grow a little weed.


Let’s see what happens next.








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