Fresno County adopted the first countywide cannabis ban in California in 2014, followed by the City of Fresno. Here’s a month-by-month breakdown.
In August 2013, Sheriff Margaret Mims asked Fresno County supervisors to adopt an ordinance with a 12-plant-per-parcel limit similar to Kern County’s. Supervisors upped the ante by pursuing a zero-tolerance cannabis cultivation ban, which passed 5-0 on January 7, 2014. They also approved a negative declaration claiming the cannabis ban, dubbed Ordinance 14-001, would have no environmental impacts. The keystone of the “new” ban — outdoor cultivation was banned three years earlier — were penalties of $1,000 per plant for violations.
Two days later, on January 9, the Fresno County Planning Commission held a public hearing on Ordinance T-88-369. Apparently designed as a cleanup bill of sorts, the ordinance deleted the county’s previous provisions for medical cannabis cultivation facilities. Fresno County’s previous ordinances — 12-004 and T-86-364 — prohibited dispensaries and outdoor cultivation of cannabis, and limited personal cultivation to a small number of industrial parcels. Nobody ever pulled the required business license, according to county staff, which isn’t surprising given that the previous ordinances created a de facto cannabis cultivation ban. The advisory Planning Commission voted 5-1 to recommend approval of the ordinance by the Board of Supervisors.
Passage of the Fresno County cannabis ban spawned an intense but short-lived referendum drive.
Fresno County supervisors approved Ordinance T-88-269 on February 4, 2014, after a single public hearing. Most ordinances receive two public hearings, but Ordinance T-88-369 amends the county’s Zoning Ordinance; in such instances, county staff told supervisors, a single vote was appropriate after Planning Commission review. The ordinance repealed a previous provision in the Zoning Ordinance, first enacted in 2011, that allowed indoor medical marijuana cultivation facilities to be established in certain industrial zones.
Diana Kirby, a longtime Fresno advocate for medical marijuana, filed suit against the county Feb. 24, claiming state law pre-empts local growing bans. She is represented by cannabis attorney Henry Wykowski of Oakland.
Using a one-two punch approach — and a CEQA exemption — the Fresno City Council adopted a fast-track cannabis cultivation ban. The council also appointed a medical marijuana subcommittee.
The city also adopted the $1,000-per-plant fines for violations found in the county ban. Also in March, Fresno County imposed fines totaling $73,000 against two growers — and against two property owners deemed to be “jointly and severally liable” for violating the cannabis ban.
The first legal challenge to the Fresno County growing ban was a court appeal of a $43,000 fine imposed against a Del Rey medical cannabis patient whose 43 plants were seized by sheriff’s deputies. The county also sought to collect the fine from the woman’s mother, who owned the rural property where the marijuana was grown.
A CEQA cannabis lawsuit was filed against Fresno County attacking its failure to follow the California Environmental Quality Act when reviewing the possible impacts of the marijuana cultivation ban.
Two medical cannabis patients — Joan Byrd and Susan Juvet — filed suit against both Fresno County and the City of Fresno with help from the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU cannabis lawsuit, which claimed state law pre-empts local growing bans, was widely reported.
Medical cannabis advocates filed suit May 8, 2014, to challenge the City of Fresno’s new growing ban. The petition for writ of mandate alleges the City violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to properly study the potential environmental impacts of the citywide growing ban. The CEQA cannabis lawsuit was filed by the Fresno Cannabis Association, an unincorporated association of medical cannabis patients.
Supervisors slashed a marijuana cultivation fine for an out-of-town property owner, leaving the tenant-grower on the hook for $27,000 of a $30,000 fine. The tenants were evicted shortly after deputies seized 30 plants at the Kerman property, which weighed in the property owner’s favor with supervisors.
On May 2, a Fresno County Superior Court judge stayed the collection of $43,000 in fines imposed in March until the appeals filed by two growers could be heard.
The Fresno Cannabis Association held its first fundraiser June 8 at Full Circle Brewery, with appearances by famed 420 comic Ngaio Bealum and local reggae faves The Green Machine.
On June 13, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Carlos Cabrera sustains Fresno County’s demurrer to Diana Kirby’s pre-emption challenge and dismisses the case.
Supervisors reduced, but did not eliminate, a $26,000 fine imposed against a Squaw Valley property owner whose tenant was allegedly growing marijuana. The cannabis wasn’t discovered until a repossessed trailer was opened in Tulare County. A $99,000 fine was imposed against another grower, even though no plants were found on his Laton-area property when the citation was issued by Fresno sheriff’s deputies. The latter case is being appealed in Fresno County Superior Court.
The Fresno Cannabis Association conducted an online survey to gather input on Senate Bill 1262, which would have created a state agency to regulate medical cannabis. Survey results.
Fresno Cannabis Association sent a letter of opposition to SB 1262 to Central Valley lawmakers. Three FCA members traveled to the state Capitol to attend the annual lobbying day sponsored by Americans for Safe Access. The controversial bill passed the state Senate but failed to pass the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Diana Kirby’s attorney files an appeal of Judge Cabrera’s dismissal of her case to the Fifth Appellate District on August 15.
Complaints about an April 19 concert by 420 band Berner in Woodward Park — some concertgoers were reportedly smoking cannabis — reached the office of Fresno City Council Member Lee Brand. In September, he introduced a new ordinance prohibiting the use of controlled substances on city property, including medical cannabis. Brand’s fellow council members didn’t back his play, however, so the proposal was effectively shelved.
Fresno supervisors held a special meeting to consider 12 appeals of fines totaling more than $1.7 million. The contentious hearings featured appearances by several non-growing property owners and their attorneys, and several of the fines are under court appeal.
On Sept. 29, Judge Cabrera dismissed the lawsuit filed by the ACLU.
In Kings County, the Corcoran City Council votes to approve a total cultivation ban.
The ACLU attorneys representing Joan Byrd and Susan Juvet file notice of appeal of Judge Cabrera’s dismissal of their case to the Fifth Appellate District on October 27.
In Tulare County, the Porterville City Council approves an ordinance allowing small-scale cultivation, provided a city permit is obtained among other requirements.
Signs of progress: Fresno County withdraws the $43,000 fine it imposed against a medical cannabis patient who grew 43 plants at her mother’s home near Del Rey. The move was termed a tactical decision by the Fresno County Counsel’s office, which was defending its first appeal of the fines in Fresno County Superior Court. The fine’s withdrawal was formalized by board resolution in December. Phaeth Holapatiphone is represented by Fresno attorney Brenda Linder.
Fresno County voters elected replacements for two longtime supervisors, Judy Case McNairy and Phil Larson, who supported the cannabis growing ban and earlier bans on dispensaries and outdoor cultivation. Their replacements — Buddy Mendes and Brian Pacheco, respectively — will join the board in January 2015.
The Board of Supervisors confirmed marijuana cultivation fines against 15 people (not all of them cannabis growers) totaling just under $1 million. In separate action, they voted to “stay the course” with the total growing ban and rejected a staff proposal to allow small-scale gardens. Blog post. The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office reported to the board that more than 350 cannabis gardens had been destroyed, with more than 75 arrests.