The Lodi City Council is pondering banning qualified patients and caregivers from growing medical marijuana outdoors, but still allowing indoor cultivation as long as it is not a public nuisance.
The council discussed the issue at a study session meeting on Tuesday, after the city received multiple complaints from residents who could smell plants, or see barbed wire protecting gardens or people living in tents in back yards to protect plants, deputy city attorney Janice Magdich said.
City staff will draft a temporary interim urgency ordinance that the council will consider on Nov. 7. This will give staff more time to study the issue and come up with a permanent ordinance, Magdich said.
Staff is recommending the city prohibit all outdoor cultivation, Magdich said, but allow indoor cultivation, as long as the plants are not visible from the public right-of-way and the smell does not go past the property line, because then it would cause a public nuisance. She compared the recommendation to the city's noise ordinance.
California NORML, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reforming California's marijuana laws, has concerns with the proposed Lodi law, deputy director Ellen Comp said.
While she is relieved the city of Lodi is seeking an all-out ban on cultivation, she does think banning outdoor growing could cause a hardship because of the expensive costs for supplies and lights needed to grow marijuana indoors.
"In some cities, it's challenging because of the proximity of neighbors," Comp said. "But it has been a hardship for patients to send it all indoors because it is more expensive with energy costs, and it's worse for the environment."
The city of Lodi has received a variety of complaints, mainly in residential areas, Magdich said. Residents worry about theft and potential violence from people who are growing plants on their porches or backyards. Some worry about the plants being visible from the right-of-way or being too close to areas where children frequently spend their time.
One woman who spoke at the meeting said her neighbor was growing next door, and had installed barbed wire fencing and allowed several people to sleep in tents in the backyard to guard what she described as a crop, Magdich said.
The woman complained of headaches from the smell, and worried that violence could occur if someone stole the plants, Magdich said.
"How do we balance the rights of these folks under the California state law with the rights of a woman who cannot use her yard during the best time of the year because of the smell and her concerns with an uptick of violence?" Magdich said.
The main reason Magdich thinks this is becoming more of an issue is because more patients are growing, and they are growing more plants. When the law was originally passed, it allowed for qualified patients or care givers to possess six mature or 12 immature plants, and 8 ounces of dried marijuana.
The limitation was challenged in court, and in 2010, the California Supreme Court said qualified patients could have what Magdich described as an amount of marijuana "reasonably necessary to meet their current medical needs based on recommendation of their physician."
This lead to people growing larger numbers of plants, which can increase the smell. For example, there are two local residents who have been growing medical marijuana in greenhouses for years that the police have known about, but no one has ever complained about the smell.
"Before, there were not enough plants to make an impact," Magdich said. "Most people were not aware it was going on, and you didn't have the criminal element searching these things out."
Some cities place strict restrictions on indoor growing. In Elk Grove, growing marijuana is not allowed outside but is allowed inside homes and detached structures.
Inside homes, plants can be grown in an area of no more than 50 square feet and excluding any bathrooms, kitchens or bedrooms where people sleep. Detached structures must be no more than 120 square feet, and the yard must have a 6-foot high fence.
Grow lights cannot exceed 1,200 watts, and the cultivation cannot be within 1,000 feet of a school, child care center or public park. A city building official must approve a ventilation and filtration system, and there must be a mechanical or electronic security system installed and approved by a city official.
Magdich said Lodi staff would prefer a more hands-off approach that wouldn't require the city to do regular inspections or put the city in a position where Lodi is permitting something that is still illegal under federal law.
"We want to keep it fairly simple, so it can be enforceable by the police," Magdich said. "One of the issues that comes up is manpower."
Comp said California NORML works with cities on these issues, because the state passed a law and then left it up to local jurisdictions to decide how to regulate it through land use and zoning.
She worries about any absolute regulations, and hopes there will be exemptions for Lodi residents who cannot afford to grow inside and make arrangements with neighbors.
"As far as what you can grow in your backyard, I'd love to live in a world where we are free to choose that, and we had the tolerance this country is supposed to stand for," Comp said. "I hope the council listens to patients who have concerns because this might be a hardship on them."
The council will consider the temporary interim ordinance at their regularly scheduled meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 7 in Carnegie Forum, 305 W. Pine St., Lodi.