West Sacramento ponders requiring medical marijuana to be grown inside

West Sacramento medical marijuana users and their caregivers could soon need a city-issued permit to grow cannabis indoors under an ordinance headed for a City Council vote in January.

The ordinance extends the city’s nearly two-year ban on outdoor cultivation connected to medical marijuana dispensaries and adds new standards for indoor gardens.

City leaders in January 2011 barred outdoor cultivation connected to a dispensary but allowed qualified patients and primary caregivers to continue to grow medical marijuana for personal use. Soon, if the new ordinance passes, those groups will have to grow the plants inside.

West Sacramento’s planning commission voted in support of the ordinance earlier this month, setting up a Jan. 15 public hearing before the City Council. A second reading by City Council will follow. If the ordinance is adopted, the new rules are expected to go into effect as early as March.

“This is a follow-up to the (2011) moratorium so we could follow court cases” on outdoor cultivation, said Charline Hamilton, West Sacramento community development director. “We started that process once the ordinance was in place. The moratorium is replaced by the ordinance.”

The state Supreme Court, in a case out of Riverside, held that cities could bar medical dispensaries within their borders. A state appellate court ruling on a Tehama County case allowed stricter local controls on medical marijuana cultivation.

The new West Sacramento ordinance says plants must be in an enclosed structure in a residential area away from schools and child care centers and set at least 10 feet from property lines. The grower must live on the property, dedicate no more than 120 square feet to cultivation and obtain a permit from the city’s Community Development office. The permit would be good for two years and can be renewed, Hamilton said.

City staffers say the added standards are a response to the rising number of nuisance complaints and incidents tied to medical marijuana cultivation in recent years. But medical marijuana advocates such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, call the ordinances examples of government overreach.

“It’s overkill, in my opinion,” said Dale Gieringer, NORML’s California director. Marijuana, he said, “should be grown outdoors. It’s not a dangerous thing to have outside.”

Gieringer said there are legitimate complaints over cultivation, including the plants’ strong odor, but said NORML would challenge a permitting process for personal use growers.

“It’s pretty obnoxious. It’s your big government approach to this issue. We have real concerns about putting yourself on a registry,” Gieringer said, referring to Mendocino County’s decision in October to turn over licensing records (but not names of growers) to comply with a federal grand jury’s subpoena on its former marijuana permitting program. “We support licenses for nonpersonal use, but not for personal use.”

But West Sacramento city staffers say the numbers of complaints and incidents associated with cultivation have risen notably in the past two years, much of them regarding odor, traffic and property crimes connected to the plants.

They look to police and code enforcement statistics to bolster their case.

West Sacramento police received 272 narcotics complaints in the city in 2013, a noticeable drop from a high of 298 complaints in 2010, though slightly higher than 2012. But while drug complaints are generally on the wane, marijuana-specific complaints more than doubled in 2011, 2012 and again in 2013.

Meanwhile, police calls tied to cannabis cultivation increased from 10 in 2010 to 27 in 2013.

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