Pubdate: Fri, 07 Feb 2014
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2014 The Arizona Republic
Author: E. J. Montini


Like many of you, when I heard that a Chandler homeowners association 
board voted to ban people from smoking medical marijuana - on their 
own property - I was left with one question:

What were those folks smoking?

Because it must be some great stuff.

Either that, or this particular HOA board, like many, many others, 
was simply drunk with power.

Residents at Carrillo Ranch in Chandler have been told they are not 
permitted to smoke medical marijuana in their backyards, front yards 
and patios.

Medical marijuana is legal in Arizona. Some people count on it to get 
through the day.

Tom LaBonte, a two-time cancer survivor and a resident of Carrillo 
Ranch, has met a number of those people.

"I have never used it myself," he told me. "But I know lots of people 
who have been helped by it, people who were unable to eat because of 
chemotherapy or radiation treatment. I know a woman right now, a 
breast-cancer patient, who is being helped by it. This is really one 
of those instances where people are just overreaching their 
authority, maybe not thinking things through. This just isn't right. 
Medical marijuana is legal, and they're going to tell people they 
can't use a legal product?" Yes, they are. The HOA's attorney, Curtis 
Ekmark, told Luci Scott that HOAs' boards "don't really care what 
people do in their units ... but if it affects neighbors, it becomes 
a community issue."

Meaning what? Some neighbors might not like the smell drifting over 
the back wall?

I've heard a number of times over the years from people living in HOA 
communities who didn't realize the freedoms they'd given away by 
signing the covenants, codes and restrictions.

HOAs can't ignore federal fair-housing laws, but they're free to 
regulate just about anything else. And they do.

In 1997, I wrote several columns about a World War II veteran in a 
dispute with his HOA over a flagpole he had in his backyard. His name 
was Doc Wussow.

When Doc and his wife built their home in the Terravata development 
in Scottsdale, flagpoles like the one in Doc's backyard were 
permitted. But before the couple moved in, the association changed the rules.

Doc served in the Pacific during the war. His brother was killed 
while fighting in Europe. Doc was not going to back down.

But the association fought him, and the old vet nearly went bankrupt.

The Terravita association said Doc's flagpole needed to come down in 
order "to preserve the quality of the Terravita community." As if a 
silly rule about flagpoles was more important to a neighborhood than 
having honest, hard-working residents like Doc.

Tom LaBonte doesn't want something like that to happen in Carrillo 
Ranch. He was fully aware the HOA had numerous rules and regulations 
when he moved in.

"But to my mind, regulations should be things that have to do with 
maintaining your property, keeping house and yard in good shape, that 
sort of thing," he said. "This is going too far."

LaBonte is circulating a petition to try to get the HOA board to 
change its mind.

If that doesn't happen, the issue could end up in court.

"That should happen," said George Staropoli, founder of Citizens for 
Constitutional Local Government, a Scottsdale non-profit that tries 
to inform people about HOAs. "An HOA board can do just about whatever 
it wants if you let them. Some things deserve to be challenged. I'd 
guess that many people who live there don't like this rule." LaBonte 
agrees. "I went to about 20 houses with my petition, and all but one 
person signed it," he told me. "I was feeling pretty low about this 
rule, but talking to neighbors who understand the issue makes me feel 
great. My neighbors get it. I hope we'll be able to convince the 
board this was a bad idea. Maybe we'll all learn something from the 
experience." It's a fairly simple lesson: Quality marijuana, for 
some, is a medicine. Quality neighbors, for everyone, is a high.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom