Pubdate: Wed, 23 Apr 2014
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2014 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Brad Branan


Sacramento County supervisors on Tuesday unanimously voted to ban
outdoor marijuana crops, joining a growing number of California cities
and counties that have prohibited cultivation in response to safety
and nuisance complaints.

Sheriff Scott Jones told supervisors that marijuana plants have
increased throughout the county because of a lack of clarity in
federal and state laws and inconsistent prosecution. County aides and
law enforcement showed numerous aerial photos of reported grow sites,
including open space near Rio Linda High School and the Cherry Island
Soccer Complex.

"We've seen a profusion  an explosion  of marijuana grows," Jones

The new restrictions would apply to unincorporated Sacramento County
and likely take effect in mid-June. The city of Sacramento already
bans outdoor cultivation in residential areas, while Elk Grove
prohibits all outdoor marijuana growth.

Some advocates for medical marijuana said Tuesday that law enforcement
overstated the risks associated with marijuana growth, though others
were sympathetic with the county's concerns about large grow sites.
They asked supervisors to preserve the ability of patients to grow
plants for personal use. Supervisors on Tuesday asked county staff to
return May 28 with proposed restrictions for indoor marijuana grows
specifically limited to medical use.

Local governments have moved quickly to regulate growth after a
favorable state court ruling in November upheld their ability to ban
cultivation despite the state's 1996 initiative legalizing marijuana
for medical use.

The ruling by the Sacramento-based 3rd District Court of Appeal,
upholding a ban in the city of Live Oak, paved the way for similar
ordinances across California. Most bans have focused on outdoor
cultivation, while Fresno County has gone the furthest by prohibiting
outdoor and indoor medical marijuana grows, according to the
California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of
Marijuana Laws.

Sacramento County Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan introduced separate
indoor and outdoor ordinances Tuesday to ban marijuana crops, saying
she has received many complaints from residents. In addition to safety
and quality of life issues, marijuana grows create undue demands on
the environment, including high water use in a drought, she said.

Supervisors unanimously approved the ban on outdoor cultivation. But
MacGlashan said she agreed to continue the indoor ordinance discussion
because she thinks a majority of board members prefer regulation
instead of an outright ban, even though she does not agree with that

The board in 2011 effectively banned medical marijuana dispensaries
after as many as 99 such establishments had opened in the
unincorporated county.

The nebulous nature of state and federal laws makes prosecution of
marijuana cultivation difficult, Jones said. The county will rely
largely on code enforcement officers to police its new ordinance,
citing growers for civil infractions with backup by sheriff's deputies
when needed.

Dozens of plants can be found in residential backyards as well as in
more remote areas, law-enforcement officials said.

Lt. John Laughlin of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife
said many of the marijuana grows are run by organized crime, and it's
not hard to figure out why: A single plant can yield $1,500 worth of
marijuana in California, and much more in other parts of the country.
The drug trafficking task force he serves on found a cornfield in
Sacramento County with $52 million in marijuana, he said.

Marijuana crops lead to violence as people try to steal and protect
them, said Michael Neves, an assistant chief deputy district attorney.
The District Attorney's Office is actively prosecuting 10 people on
homicide charges involving marijuana, he said.

"It's out of control," said Neves, who said in late summer some
neighborhoods will be permeated with the skunk-like smell of freshly
harvested marijuana.

Neves pointed to the case of Kelly McClurg, a 60-year-old Wilton man
who was shot and killed when two men stole his indoor pot grow in
2012. Three men were convicted in the case.

Medical marijuana advocates told supervisors Tuesday the county should
take action against large growers who engage in criminal enterprise
but not restrict the ability of patients to cultivate plants for their
own needs.

"We agree with pretty much everything you said today," said Bob
Bowerman of the Sacramento chapter of the National Organization for
the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The debate on indoor growing will possibly hinge on how much marijuana
is reasonable for a patient to have. Ron Mullins of Sacramento NORML
told supervisors that prosecutor Neves' assertion that 2 pounds was
enough to last a patient a year was far off the mark. He estimated
that he smoked 51/2 pounds of marijuana in a year.

"No way  that's too much," said Supervisor Susan Peters.
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