Clovis introduces stricter medical pot limits

The Fresno BeeSeptember 10, 2012 

The Clovis City Council introduced new rules Monday for its 6-year-old medical marijuana ordinance that would make it more difficult to grow the crop indoors.

The city already bans outdoor marijuana gardens, dispensaries and patient-to-patient sales.

And if it could, Clovis would be the first city in California to have an outright ban on the cultivation of medical marijuana, Mayor Jose Flores said.

Instead, the council settled on revisions to its ordinance that would restrict the growing of pot plants to a 32-square-foot indoor area that can't be seen from the outside.

The updated ordinance says gardens must be in a building that does not allow sunlight to hit the crop. In addition, the structure must have locks, proper ventilation and filtration system so neighbors can't smell it, and meet building codes. The old ordinance didn't clearly address ventilation, filtration or plumbing requirements, City Attorney David Wolfe said.

The intent is to stop the growing of pot in kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms, Wolfe said.

Only Flores and Council Members Nathan Magsig and Bob Whalen attended Monday's special meeting. The council voted 2-1 to introduce the ordinance, which was amended to allow Wolfe to research the legal consequences of banning the cultivation of medical marijuana.

Flores said he voted no because he was ready to support an ordinance that bans the cultivation of medical marijuana within the city limits. Although a simple majority can introduce an ordinance, approval requires three votes of the council. The council's second vote on the ordinance is set for Sept. 17.

California and 15 other states (plus Washington, D.C.) have legalized the medical use of marijuana. The intent of California's Proposition 215, approved by voters in 1996, was to enable persons in need of marijuana for medical purposes to obtain and use it without fear of criminal prosecution. Nonmedical users still can be prosecuted.

Ever since Proposition 215 was approved, however, cities and counties have struggled to enact ordinances governing medical marijuana that can withstand legal challenge.

That's because the federal government prohibits cultivation and use of marijuana, even for medical purposes, Wolfe said.

Clovis has had an ordinance on the books since 2006. The updated ordinance still would allow medical marijuana users to grow the plant, but also would help the city control potential nuisances that arise from marijuana gardens, Wolfe said.

While two former Clovis police chiefs -- Joe Maskovich and Jim Zulim -- and others spoke in favor of the updated ordinance, no one opposed it at Monday's meeting.

Under the updated ordinance, patients with a doctor's note could cultivate up to 24 plants inside their home. It also would allow a group of patients to form a cooperative to cultivate up to 99 plants at one location. Those plants would have to be grown indoors in an area zoned light industrial and in a locked enclosure. The updated ordinance no longer would allow cultivation in areas zoned rural residential.

Fresno's ordinance prohibits outdoor gardens, but doesn't ban dispensaries as long as they meet state and federal law, Fresno police Lt. David Newton said. But since the federal government does not recognize medical marijuana, then dispensaries are essentially not allowed, he said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6434, plopez@fresnobee.com or @beecourts on Twitter.

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