Kevin Valine

Modesto takes step toward regulating medical marijuana

It could be difficult for the City Council to reach consensus on how Modesto should regulate patients and caregivers who grow medical marijuana.

And the council does not have much time.

Communities across California have until March 1 to put regulations in place or cede control to the state. That is one of the provisions of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, three bills Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in October.

In order to meet the March 1 deadline, the Modesto council would have to pass an ordinance in early January. The ordinance would then get a second reading at the council’s next meeting and would take effect 30 days after that.

A Tuesday workshop showed some division among the council. City staff was recommending the council consider an ordinance that would limit cultivation to no more than 50 square feet in a residence or secure detached structure, such as a garage.

Audience members said that would be too restrictive. They said the cannabinoids, which are the chemical compounds in marijuana used for medicine, don’t grow as well indoors and 50 square feet is not sufficient in some cases. Audience members also said it is more expensive and takes more expertise to grow indoors. They added the state is allowing patients and caregivers to grow as much as 100 square feet of marijuana.

Councilwoman Kristi Ah You’s proposal to allow patients and caregivers to grow as much as 100 square feet and to grow outdoors drew support from three of the six other council members: Mayor Garrad Marsh, Councilwoman Jenny Kenoyer and Councilman Tony Madrigal.

Councilmen Doug Ridenour, Mani Grewal and Bill Zoslocki opposed the proposal. Ridenour wanted to stay with the staff recommendation until he learned more about the issue, and Grewal and Zoslocki were concerned the odors from outdoor grows could offend neighbors and the plants could attract criminals.

The council eventually endorsed the staff recommendation 6-1, with Madrigal casting the “no” vote.

Even though this was a workshop and the council took no formal action, Madrigal was concerned the council was sending the wrong message by limiting cultivation to 50 square feet and indoors. He said these restrictions could harm patients who need medical marijuana and the medicines derived from the plants.

The proposal endorsed by the council includes these restrictions: Those who grow medical marijuana must be at least 18 years old, live in the residence full time, tenants must get written permission from their landlords, and cultivation can take place only in residential areas in a residence or detached structure.

City Attorney Adam Lindgren said the council can revisit whatever ordinance it passes and change it. He said the pressing matter is to get an ordinance on the books ahead of the deadline.

He said communities across the state are rushing to regulate medical marijuana and some are pursuing outright bans. He said some also are adopting urgency ordinances, which take less time.

Lindgren said Modesto is not doing that so the public can have more participation. The city’s next step is for the Planning Commission to weigh in on the proposed ordinance and make a recommendation to the council. The commission is expected to take this up at its Dec. 21 meeting. The commission will take public comment.

This is the second time in a year that city officials have brought forward a proposal to regulate the cultivation of medical marijuana. The Police Department and City Attorney’s Office brought a proposed ordinance to the Planning Commission in December 2014 to limit grows to 50 square feet and indoors.

Officials said some outdoor grows were taking up entire backyards, and the noxious odors from the plants offended neighbors and the plants drew criminals. But planning commissioners said the ordinance needed more work and were concerned it would inadvertently harm those who legitimately grow and use medical marijuana.

Modesto prohibits medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation except by patients or primary caregivers.

The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act is the first comprehensive regulation of the pot industry since voters legalized medical use in 1996.

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316