FRESNO – Despite the pleas of dozens of medical marijuana users, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved an ordinance that would severely limit the selling and growing of marijuana in the county.
The new law, which was approved 4-1, will force 15 medical marijuana dispensaries to close down and will also ban anyone from growing a marijuana garden outdoors. This includes people who grow pot outside of their own homes for their own needs. Indoor cultivation is allowed under strict regulations, including requiring security and putting caps on the number of plants that can be grown.
The ordinance also allows medical marijuana to be grown in specific industrial parts of the county, but advocates say this isn’t good enough.
Many medical marijuana users stood up to speak at the meeting on Tuesday, saying they have a legitimate need for the substance. They said that if the ordinance passes, they will be forced to go to the streets to buy their marijuana.
“This is my medication, it helps me,” one medical marijuana advocate said at the meeting.
One woman told the board that she grows marijuana for her own personal use.
“(The ordinance) would be effectively removing my medication out of my hands. And removing the medication from my father who has cancer. And from my brother,” she said. “This is taking medication out of the hands of people who really need it.”
Several people also spoke out against the marijuana dispensaries that have cropped up throughout the county. Those who live near the dispensaries say that safety is a problem and that crime has risen in their neighborhoods. Others complained about dispensaries being too close to schools.
One of the reasons the ordinance was drafted was to stop the abuse of marijuana growing and the illegal distribution of it to people who are not using it for medical purposes, board members said.
Although the board passed the ordinance, the members did admit that it is not a perfect law.
“This is a starting point,” said Supervisor Debbie Poochigian.
Poochigian said that she doesn’t have a problem with someone who just wants to grow a few plants in their backyard, which would be illegal under the new ordinance.
Supervisor Susan Anderson had the only dissenting vote, saying the ordinance was unworkable.
“This ordinance is poorly designed and it’s designed to fail,” she said. “It might look good on paper, look good politically, but it’s unrealistic.”
Anderson said she was afraid the law would push growing marijuana into national forests and would benefit drug cartels.
The law is set to go into effect in one month. At that time, the medical marijuana dispensaries will have six months to shut down. If they fail to comply, they will get a warning notice, then a notice of violation, and finally an administrative citation. After those three steps, county officials can take legal action as long as they have approval by the Board of Supervisors. This process could drag on for months or even years.
Supervisor Anderson said that she worries the enforcement of the ordinance will be insufficient and the dispensaries will be allowed to stay open with little punishment.
Attorneys for the dispensaries have said that they will file a lawsuit because they say the ordinance is violating the rights that medical marijuana users have under state laws.
“Why pass an ordinance that is unworkable, unenforceable and illegal?” said attorney Brenda Linder, who represents four of the dispensaries.
Supervisors did leave some room for change in the new ordinance. They are planning to meet with county officials, law enforcement officers, and local marijuana advocates and their attorneys within the next few months to look at possible tweaks to the law.