Tulare County grand jury urges regulation of pot gardens
June 25, 2013
Lewis Griswold, Fresno Bee
The Tulare County Grand Jury is recommending that cities establish a uniform ordinance for cultivation of medical marijuana and that growers be issued permits.
Only two cities — Farmersville and Woodlake — have both an ordinance and a permit process.
Visalia, Dinuba and Lindsay have cultivation ordinances, while Exeter, Porterville and Tulare do not, according to a grand jury's report released last week.
"It is impossible for cities to keep track of" medical marijuana growing without both an ordinance and a permit requirement, the report states.
In reply to the recommendations, which lack the force of law, the several cities said in required written responses that they don't anticipate making changes.
Kat Harris, grand jury foreman pro tem, said the grand jury's chief concern is that lack of regulation could lead to innocent people getting hurt. Marijuana gardens can serve as magnets for thieves who might harm someone or get hurt, Harris said, noting the Fresno case in which a victim was shot and killed after trying to steal marijuana.
"You could have one across from a school," Harris said.
Under a permit system, "they can at least keep track of who's got what and how much," she said.
But issuing permits to grow marijuana could run afoul of federal law, Visalia city attorney Alex Peltzer said.
Permitting "would apply a level of government sanctioning to an activity that is still expressly illegal under federal law," the city wrote in its response.
In Exeter, City Manager Randy Groom said the city is watching the experience of other cities, but has no plans to adopt an ordinance. "One size doesn't fit all," he said.
Marijuana cultivation for personal medical use "hasn't been a hot button issue" in Tulare, and the Tulare City Council hasn't expressed a desire to adopt an ordinance, Planning Director Mark Kielty said.
But Woodlake, which has both an ordinance allowing up to 12 plants and a permit process, said in its response that "both tools have proven to be vital in the city's ability to keep track of and abate legal and illegal medical marijuana cultivation."
Medical marijuana advocates said that the grand jury's suggestions would infringe on the rights of patients who legally obtained a medical marijuana card and grow their own.
"Any additional onerous requirements on patients, like a registration process for cultivation, especially if the cultivation is for personal use, would amount to an unfair and unlawful restriction on a voter-approved initiative," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group in Oakland.
However, cities or counties could probably regulate the growing activities of those who grow for others, he said.
The grand jury report demonstrates that "we have a patchwork system" of rules around the state, Hermes said.
State laws that local officials would be required to follow — not local ordinances as suggested by Tulare County Grand Jury — would be best for medical marijuana patients, he said.