The Fresno City Council voted Thursday to approve a permanent ban on growing medical marijuana outdoors. The measure now goes to Mayor Ashley Swearengin for her signature, and it takes effect 30 days after that.
The permanent ordinance allows no outdoor marijuana cultivation of any kind within the city limits, just like the temporary bans that were passed in December and January, the latter of which is still in effect. Enforcement will be handled through a civil injunctive process, with each day of non-compliance counting as a separate violation.
Outdoor growers who defy the ban face possible fines and cost recovery for the city’s attorney’s fees and investigative costs, which can easily total several thousand dollars. Violations can be charged as a misdemeanor, and landlords and commercial property owners can also be punished if marijuana is grown on their property.
Thursday’s action followed the first reading of the ordinance on June 21. Four people spoke against the ban at that public hearing, including myself, Dustin Frazier Lowery, Diane Valdovinos, and Fresno attorney Brenda Linder. One resident spoke in favor of the ban, which was introduced and promoted by the Fresno Police Department. A spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers union sent a letter urging council members to wait for Assembly Bill 2312 to provide additional guidance. AB 2312 was narrowly passed by the Assembly, but was pulled from consideration by its author, Assembly Member Tom Ammiano, after a deal-killing amendment to the bill was successfully sought by the League of California Cities.
Much like the Fresno Police Department, which portrayed all medical cannabis patients as criminals when describing real problems with unregulated, large-scale gardens, local media have struggled to distinguish lawful medical cannabis gardens from “illegal” pot grows (or didn’t bother to try, as in this CBS 47 report). Here, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office claims a large-scale garden near Dunlap was worth $42 million, based upon the seizure of 3,500 presumably immature plants. That averages $12,000 per plant, while the more common law enforcement estimate (obviously subject to debate) is $2,000 a plant.
While the vote to approve the outdoor growing ban was expected, it was particularly untimely. Several key medical-marijuana cases are pending before the California Supreme Court. The court’s rulings in future months could not only undo the city’s growing ban, but also its ban on medical marijuana collectives and dispensaries.
State law provides for both indoor and outdoor cultivation, as well as cultivation by groups and individuals. The only remaining option in Fresno is indoor cultivation by individual patients, and those rights could be further curtailed in future months depending on the Supreme Court’s rulings. I’m now accepting input from other Fresno-area Prop. 215 patients about legal options, including the filing of an amended cultivation lawsuit. Check this website for further updates on Fresno’s ban on growing marijuana outdoors.