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Grand Jury calls for consistency in Cities’ medical marijuana laws

Grand Jury calls for consistency in Cities’ medical marijuana laws

On March 27, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department eradicated a large illegal marijuana grow site near Dinuba.

Deputies served a search warrant in the 10200 block of Avenue 404 in Dinuba. A green house on the property contained 1,386 mature marijuana plants, well in excess of the medical recommendations located on the property. Also seized during the search was 500 pounds of processed marijuana packaged in one pound bags, 19 firearms including two assault weapons and eight handguns, various packaging materials and scales and about $150,000 in cash. At the time of the search warrant several small children were playing in the immediate area and had easy access to marijuana and firearms around the property. Three men were arrested and charged with cultivation of marijuana, possession for sales, conspiracy, Child endangerment and firearms charges.

In addition to the above, the owner of the property was provided notification advising that allowing cultivation of marijuana is a Federal felony. Growing marijuana or allowing it to be grown on your property exposes the property to seizure by the Federal government through the Asset Forfeiture Process which allows the government to seize property obtained or maintained through drug trafficking proceeds.

It was the latest example of criminals attempting to hide behind the State’s loose laws regarding medical marijuana. According to the Sheriff’s Department, criminal groups pay unwitting subjects to obtain medical recommends from doctors who allow them to grow plants well in excess of their medical needs. Subjects who are recommend holders turn over their documents then have nothing to do with the marijuana, which upon harvest is then sold on the street, shipped out of state or to a dispensary out of the area. In this case evidence of out of state marijuana shipments and shipments to dispensaries in Southern California where marijuana from this location was sold for between $2,500 and $4,500 per pound, were also collected.

While most large grows are found outside the cities, there are many smaller operations being conducted inside home within city limits throughout the County. Some are following the rules outlined in California’s Proposition 215, but some are in violation of their city’s own ordinances and all are in violation of federal law.

The controversies between federal regulations, California Health and Safety Codes as well as ordinances from city to city prompted the Tulare County Grand Jury to investigate and report on medical marijuana cultivation with the County’s eight incorporated cities.

Known as the California Compassionate Use Act, Prop. 215 was approved by voters in 1996. The proposition amended the California Constitution to allow people to lawfully possess and grow marijuana approved by a California physician for approved conditions, such as cancer, glaucoma, migraines, chronic pain, arthritis and AIDS. In 2004, Senate Bill 420 took effect which protects medical marijuana patients from arrest. It also amended the Health and Safety Code allowing cities or local governing boards to adopt and enforce ordinances that are consistent with Prop. 215 and SB 420.

But local laws widely differ from city to city. In fact, Tulare County’s smallest cities are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Exeter and Lindsay are “no grow” cities, meaning you cannot cultivate marijuana within the city limits. The two cities rely on an identical verbiage regarding the legal use of land in their ordinances: “No use of land, under this title, shall be permitted within the city limits if such use shall be in violation of any local, state or federal laws” (Ordinance 660, Section 17.02.070 in the City of Exeter and Ordinance 18.01.090 in the City of Lindsay).

The Grand Jury reported Exeter does not know of any medical marijuana cultivation within the city and refers all of its medical marijuana related issues to its zoning department. Lindsay reported being aware of one medical marijuana cultivation within its city limits and found it to be in compliance with the recommended issue. Similarly, Tulare, Dinuba and Porterville do not have an ordinance regulating medical marijuana grows. Of those three, only Porterville was able to identify how many residences were cultivating marijuana. Porterville reported 75 residences were growing medical marijuana. And while most averaged between 10 and 20 plants, some had as many as 99 plants.

Lindsay City Manager Rich Wilkinson could not be reached for comment regarding Lindsay’s response to the Grand Jury. Exeter Mayor Robyn Stearns responded to the Grand Jury investigation in a letter dated March 28, 2013. “We do not necessarily feel that our current approach is the best answer, but there is such a volume of pending litigation and legislative work on the topic that it has not seemed prudent to pioneer a new effort when so many other jurisdictions are much farther along in their development, testing, and evaluation of other approaches.”

Farmersville, Woodlake and Visalia all had regulating ordinances, but only Farmersville and Woodlake had a permitting process.

The Farmersville City Council adopted its ordinance in 2009. The ordinance sets a limit of 8 ounces of dried marijuana and six mature or 12 immature plants per qualified patient. Patients are required to register with the City Manager.The ordinance allows for a registration fee to be collected. Growing regulations would include a height limit, a restriction to indoor growing only, no more than 18 plants on any property and no cultivation within 1,000 feet of a school, church, child care center, school bus stop, school evacuation site, park or youth oriented facility.

Farmersville did not report how many residences were cultivating medical marijuana under the ordinance, only stating it does not permit more than 18 plants at a single site. Farmersville City Manager Renee Miller could not be reached for comment.

Woodlake reported there were 16 residences cultivating medical marijuana, all of which were out of compliance with the City’s ordinance and permit requirement. Seven had been issued notices of violations at the time of the Grand Jury’s report.

The Woodlake City Council approved its ordinance last year. The ordinance bans medical marijuana dispensaries but allows collectives and/or cooperatives. Individuals can grow up to four plants without registering with City Hall. Any more than four at a single location would require the patient or caregiver to pay fees for a code compliance inspection every three months. An individual with a code compliance inspection is allowed to cultivate up to six mature plants or 12 immature plants. All cultivation must occur in a locked and fully enclosed structure. Outdoor cultivation is prohibited. The law also regulates where the medical marijuana may be consumed. No person shall smoke, ingest, or otherwise consume medical marijuana in the City of Woodlake unless such smoking, ingesting or consumption occurs entirely within a private residence or on the premises of a private residence but out of public view.

The Tulare County Grand Jury recommended all of the incorporated cities within the County adopt a permit requirement and ordinance covering medical marijuana cultivation, and even took it a step further, saying all of the cities should establish a uniform ordinance.

“We would note that it may not be feasible to establish a uniform ordinance that is appropriate for all jurisdictions,” Stearns wrote in Exeter’s response to the recommendations. “Every city has unique circumstances and environments that make a one-size-fits-all approach problematic, or perhaps impossible. But we agree that consistency – to the greatest degree possible – is an appropriate goal.”

Woodlake’s Mendoza agreed, “The City is willing to work with other cities in the County to look at the possibility of establishing a uniform ordinance. This recommendation will require further analysis and all the cities in the County working together. The goal of establishing a uniform ordinance will be difficult due to varied demands faced by the cities.”

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