Willits outlaws outdoor pot growing: Patients threaten suit

October 23, 2005

Claudia Reed, Ukiah Daily Journal

An ordinance prohibiting outdoor growing of marijuana within city limits was unanimously adopted at the Oct. 12 city council meeting.

A network of medical marijuana patients, working through Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access (ASA), is threatening to sue.

The ordinance in question, which adds the new chapter, Marijuana Cultivation to the Willits Municipal Code, outlaws outdoor growing as a nuisance contributing to unpleasant odors, air pollution affecting community health, and an increased risk of violent crime.

The chapter does not outlaw indoor growing per se, but reserves the right to declare specific indoor growing operations a nuisance on a case-by-case basis. It does not restrict purchase of medical marijuana from a caregiver growing a supply elsewhere.

"Caregivers are still available," said Councilman Denny McEntire. "Precluding marijuana growing in city limits doesn't preclude access to marijuana."

Even those most fiercely opposed to in-city growing, including Laura McBride, who says she develops migraine headaches from pot-related air pollution during harvest season, voiced little opposition to the general concept of medical marijuana.

"Legalize it and move it out to the country where nobody has to smell it and tax the crap out of it!" McBride said.

Taxed or not, marijuana patients insist they can't afford to purchase their medicine or to grow it indoors.

The majority of qualified patients wont be able to grow at all if they have to grow indoors, protested a woman identifying herself as Pebbles Triphead.

Triphead said most lack the necessary expertise and can't afford the grow lights and other essential equipment. She added the fear of crime cited in the ordinance would be intensified by the fear of home invasion if indoor growing is the only option. She also threatened suit with the help of pro bono lawyers.

One such lawyer, ASA attorney Joseph D. Elford, made the same threat in a Sept. 22 letter to City Attorney James Lance when the ordinance was still at the proposal stage:

"Because the ordinance deprives those who cannot afford greenhouses or grow lamps of this right (to cultivate medicine), it is at odds with California's medical marijuana laws and is, therefore, preempted."

After passage of the ordinance, Elford told The Willits News: "We would be a lot less interested in bringing suit if (the ordinance) set reasonable limitation on amounts within a certain residential area then to ban absolutely. It seems to me limitations on plant size and amount would solve the problem."

Lance, however, told the paper he was guided by a state attorney general's opinion that a municipality's ordinance that allows for a number (of plants) less than what the state law allows may be in contradiction of state law.

That law, the Compassionate Use Act, allows cultivation of six mature or 12 immature plants per patient.

State law does say a patient may grow, Lance adds, but doesn't say a patient may grow whatever he wants wherever he wants.

"We believe a city has the right to protect its community by limiting things that may be a nuisance."

At the Oct. 12 meeting Councilwoman Karen Oslund pointed out agricultural activities in generally are limited or prohibited within city limits.

"I cant keep a cow in my back yard," she said. "I will support this ordinance knowing we will be sued. If those who support this ordinance want to write checks for the legal defense fund we will all be grateful."

"I hope were not sued," said City Manager Ross Walker, a generally reserved man who spoke with great intensity. "Think about what you're doing! Somebody's coming in from the outside telling us how local government ought to relate to its own citizens!"

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