City Council favors prohibiting outdoor gardens of medicinal marijuana

10/17/2012 12:00 AM

10/17/2012 9:58 AM

Saying the practice has become a magnet for crime and a nuisance to neighbors, the Sacramento City Council moved forward Tuesday with prohibiting outdoor cultivation of medical marijuana within the city limits.

Following nearly two hours of debate, the council voted 8-1 to direct city staffers to draft an ordinance that would outlaw the outdoor growing. That ordinance will come back to the City Council for final approval.

Councilman Steve Cohn was the lone "no" vote on the matter.

The council also voted to keep in place existing location restrictions on medical marijuana dispensaries. Those restrictions prohibit the shops from operating within 1,000 feet of other dispensaries, 300 feet from residences and 600 feet from schools and parks.

Cohn and Councilman Jay Schenirer voted against keeping those restrictions in place.

Some council members have expressed support for increasing the buffer for schools and parks to 1,000 feet.

The city has a moratorium on granting permits to medical marijuana dispensaries, following a series of crackdowns by federal authorities across the state.

In the meantime, dispensaries that were open before the federal crackdown have been allowed to continue operating.

A total of 17 dispensaries are open in the city, down from a peak of 38.

Most of the hearing's debate focused on the city's practice of allowing medical marijuana crops in backyards.

According to a city staff report, homes with outdoor crops "have in some cases been a target for burglaries and crime."

City officials noted that some other governments in the state, including Elk Grove, limit medical marijuana growing to indoors.

Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy has been the most vocal proponent of prohibiting outdoor growing operations. She said crime in her North Sacramento district related to backyard growing is prevalent and that crops as large as 99 plants have recently been discovered in the area.

"People are afraid for their safety," she said.

Sacramento Deputy Police Chief Dana Matthes told the council, "We are seeing crime related to the grows and cultivation."

That crime has included recent incidents in which a homeowner fired gunshots at intruders in his backyard crop and a resident being robbed of marijuana.

City officials also described the outdoor gardens as "attractive nuisances" that give off strong odors during cultivation season.

Curtis Park resident Phil Grajeda said the smell given off by a backyard crop on his street "is driving me crazy."

"I can't go in my backyard anymore," he said. "I feel like I'm in prison in my own yard."

Opponents of restricting backyard crops said growing medical marijuana outdoors gives patients safe access to a vital aid.

"You are essentially giving a death sentence to the patients who need it the most," said Rich Miller, a representative of the local chapter of Americans for Safe Access.

Miller asked the council to delay any votes on medical marijuana until the federal government's actions against the industry become clearer.

Betty Braden, a South Land Park resident who has had two hip replacement surgeries and has Crohn's disease, said she can't afford to buy medical marijuana and relies on her backyard garden.

"I am a law-abiding citizen and I choose cannabis as my medication," she said.

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