Public reviews marijuana ordinance

July 18, 2006

Claudia Reed, Willits News

A proposed ordinance prohibiting outdoor marijuana growing within city limits reached the public hearing stage, Wednes-day night.

A final version will be introduced at a future meeting. Adoption of an ordinance is expected before summer.

If the current proposal is adopted, in-door growing of medical marijuanain-cluding operations taking place in a fully enclosed greenhousewould be permitted. The city would retain the authority to curtail any growing activities that cause such public nuisances as unpleasant odors and health-threatening levels of pollen.

City officials agreed elimination of outdoor growing would discourage marijuana theft and the related problems of violent crime and use by juveniles.

"The attraction for crime is not hypothetical," said City Manager Ross Walker. "In our city we've actually had shootings related to someone trying to get at marijuana in someone else's residence."

While at least 10 people representing the community of medical marijuana grow-ers, providers, and users were present at the meeting, only three of them spoke and objection to the ordinance was moderate.

Tara Watts, who identified herself as a care giver (person authorized to administer medical marijuana) for the past 15 years, called indoor growing "complicated." She told the city council that many people who object to the prohibition "are afraid to come in and stand up and show their fa-ces," given lingering social disapproval of marijuana use.

Councilwoman Holly Madrigal invited such people to submit written comments anonymously, if necessary.

Cathy Walker, who called herself a re-covering addict, countered that many who oppose marijuana growing are also afraid to speak up. She questioned the legitimacy of the medical marijuana program, the possibility of quality control and the related viewpoint that the substance in not addictive. Walker said her son recently asked her for $100 in order to buy a prescription.

Watts agreed the program is open to corruption. She questioned the presence of dispensaries, legally required to be non-profit, that charge the same prices as those who sell marijuana for recreational use. Her conclusion, however, was that home growing opportunities are needed to keep the price affordable.

A man identifying himself as Professor Ping Pong asserted marijuana is more affordable than prescription drugs. He added, however, that "some things in the ordinance are prudent and should be enacted."

Cannabis patient Sally Pringle called prescription drugs more dangerous than medical marijuana, noting a relative had committed suicide after taking antidepressants. She asserted that outdoor growers should be reimbursed for the cost of converting to indoor growing and noted patients living in the city may lack the transportation needed to buy from rural areas. The timing of a Ukiah ordinance, she said, left patients without the opportunity to find alternate sources.

Council members said they had hoped to design the Willits ordinance before the start of the growing season, but were unable to move that fast, given the need for public review.

Councilman Ron Orenstein weighed in on the quality control concerns, including the possible use of pesticides and the presence of toxins in the soil. He also stressed the need to protect the health of neighbors who don't use marijuana:

"If it's health care you want, what about older people with emphysema who can't breath (because of the emissions from growing operations). What about their health?"

Councilwoman Karen Oslund sent a similar message.

"This issue didn't come to the council because someone was growing one plant or two plants," she said, "but because someone was growing 75 plants in a back yard."

Superintendent of Schools Steve Jorgensen said marijuana growing operations can be seen by looking over the fence at four of the city's six school sites.

"You can smell it inside in the heavy growing season," he said.

Mayor Tami Jorgensen stressed the fear of violence. One elderly resident, she said, is afraid to go into her own back yard after dark since it adjoins a yard with a clearly visible growing operation. The woman, Jorgensen said, is afraid of being shot in a robbery attempt.

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