Indoor growing rule costly say patient advocates

February 20, 2006

Laura Clark, Ukiah Daily Journal

As the planting season nears, medical marijuana patients on fixed incomes could be hard-pressed for the money it takes to operate an indoor growing system, required under a city ordinance passed last year.

The Ukiah City Council in July voted to adopt recommendations from the city's Planning Commission and finalize a marijuana cultivation ordinance. On Feb. 1, because of concerns over privacy issues, safety issues, air quality and odor issues, the City Council voted to confirm its stance that all cultivation take place indoors. The city's definition of "indoors" directly means within a "fully enclosed and secure structure," which could include a greenhouse with lockable doors.

The city ordinance allows 12 mature plants per parcel.

The indoor growing ordinance pleased some neighborhood activists who objected to the smell and presence of marijuana in backyard gardens but frustrated marijuana advocates who give voice to poor and elderly medical marijuana users who may not be able to afford an indoor growing system -- or the electricity bill that comes with just such an operation.

"It's very cost-prohibitive to a lot of folks on fixed incomes," said Ukiah Morrison, communications consultant at Northern California NORML, a national organization supporting the reform of marijuana laws.

"Most of us are struggling to survive and don't have an extra grand to build a greenhouse ... the same thing goes with not having enough money to buy the lighting system ... and there are safety issues involved," Morrison said, referring to the electrical hazards of such an elaborate set-up. Ventilation and security are also issues, he said.

The majority of legitimate medicinal marijuana patients are elderly and/or ill, thus adding to concerns over use of heat lamps and complex glass equipment, advocates say.

Asked if city staff has any concerns over the safety of indoor pot cultivation equipment, Planning Director Charley Stump said: "I will speak for the City Council who adopted the ordinance, and the answer is yes,' they are concerned about that."

Morrison, who acknowledged that most people don't want to offend their neighbors, said: "A lot of people who are growing these very harmless plants (outside) are just as offended by somebody's barbecue, or a truck that may not have proper exhaust on it. And it's (the ordinance) also a smack to the face considering how much they are charging for power lately," he said.

"Even if somehow they are able to afford the lighting systems, that in itself is such a drain on the environment. The most efficient lighting system would probably be two, 400 watt systems or two, 600 watt systems," he said.

During the vegetative phase lights may need to be on for up to 18-to-24 hours a day, according to Morrison who feels that extra energy expenditure could be avoided by growing marijuana outside.

"Think of that cost to patients, someone with cancer or AIDS. They can't afford that," he said. "(The city) is going around making these ordinances without having a clear picture of the validity of the patients and their needs."

Directly, or indirectly, "hundreds, even thousands" of medical marijuana patients are affected by this ordinance, Morrison said. "There are a lot of secondary, unintentional consequences not put into play. The ordinance was created because people were offended by the smell -- or nauseated by the smell of cannabis, but the opposite is just as true for patients who suffer from debilitating illnesses because they don't have cannabis."

Asked if the new ordinance would keep patients from obtaining medical marijuana, Morrison said: "It is going to make it difficult; it will be much more problematic for a society as a whole; it doesn't have to be this way."

Laura Clark can be reached at Seth Freedland contributed to this article.

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