City Council passes ordinance limiting medical pot growing

May 04, 2005

K.C. Meadows, Ukiah Daily Journal

After a somewhat contentious public hearing in which council members were accused of being less than compassionate and medical marijuana growers were called greedy, the Ukiah City Council took the unprecedented step of deciding to regulate medical marijuana growing in the city limits.

The vote was unanimous.

It may be the strictest regulation by a city in the state where medical marijuana use and cultivation was made legal by the voters in 1996.

The urgency ordinance lasts 45 days and council members said they believed it was necessary to act immediately even as the city's Planning Commission continues to work on a permanent growing scheme of some kind.

The idea of an ordinance stems from last year's marijuana harvest season during which local residents complained that the unabashed marijuana growing in the city was creating odor and safety problems. At least two violent incidents were blamed on attempted marijuana thefts.

The urgency ordinance would require anyone growing medical marijuana to limit themselves to six plants which must be grown indoors either in the home or in a fully enclosed structure or greenhouse.

At Wednesday's public hearing, medical marijuana advocates who spoke outnumbered ordinance proponents 16 to 4.

Most of those opposed said there was no urgency to move forward and that for medical marijuana patients, growing indoors is too cumbersome and expensive.

Some discussed their own or partners' illnesses, others stressed the rights of patients and care givers under Prop. 215 which they believed were unassailable. And they warned any limits would be fought in court.

'Potheads!' called out one women who couldn't restrain herself.

Mayor Mark Ashiku had to repeatedly remind members of the audience to be polite to one another, including some who tried to debate the council from the audience during their deliberations.

Dr. Peter Keegan, a well known advocate of medical marijuana accused the council of being unconcerned about the patients.

'To you, everybody who grows marijuana is a drug dealer,' he said, adding that there are already laws on the books which can charge and punish people who are illegally growing marijuana. He said regulating legitimate growing just punishes patients.

The four Ukiah residents who spoke in favor of the ordinance said they felt unsafe in their neighborhoods and held hostage to the marijuana gardens. They also said they did not believe that so much marijuana growing was being done on behalf of legitimate patients.

'I'm afraid we've got an epidemic (of sick people) going on in Ukiah,' one woman said.

After the public had its say, council members tried to vocalize their own feelings about the controversial issue.

Councilman Phil Baldwin, considered one of the most liberal members of the council, nonetheless said the greed involved in marijuana growing turned him toward regulation.

He said many advocates for medical marijuana were hypocritical and just wanted to see the status quo continue.

'They want the ability to make a profit,' he said.

Baldwin believes in legalizing marijuana to end the profit in it for anyone, and he said medical marijuana advocates have turned away from legalization because Prop. 215 growing has made it quasi-legal while keeping prices high enough for them to continue to make money dealing.

Baldwin also said he believed that marijuana growing in general was not a good urban activity and should be relegated to agricultural areas.

Councilman John McCowen said that medical marijuana advocates brought regulation on themselves and that if they had done a better job of helping police illegal growing in the name of Prop. 215, ordinances such as this one would be unnecessary.

He read the definition of care giver from the Prop. 215 law and noted it was someone closely involved in the patient's daily care and not simply someone who 'just happened to grow a really good crop.'

McCowen said he believes medical marijuana patients can get pot fairly easily and cheaply from a wide variety of compassionate people in the community and that the ordinance would not limit their access to it.

Councilwomen Mari Rodin said she agreed with McCowen, Councilman Doug Crane had no comment and Ashiku said he felt the council needed to do something to protect the citizens and that the urgency ordinance was a temporary measure while a permanent solution is being worked out by the Planning Commission with advocate groups like NORML, Medical Marijuana Patients Union and the United Medical Caregivers Clinic. Those groups have come up with a proposal to regulate medical marijuana growing in Ukiah based largely on creating a community pot garden and setting up an city advisory committee to handle ongoing issues or complaints about medical marijuana.



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