Fresno County supervisors are toughening up their marijuana-growing ordinance, hoping stiffer penalties will discourage the ever-multiplying number of illegal grows in the county.
The first reading of the law passed 5-0 on Tuesday. It will return for a final vote at the board's Oct. 8 meeting and, if approved, will take effect a month later.
"I think we need a new effort, so I'm 100% behind this," Supervisor Judy Case said.
Under the new ordinance, those involved in marijuana grows in excess of 12 plants could be charged with a misdemeanor, which can include up to six months in a jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
In addition, violations can be deemed a public nuisance, and the Sheriff's Office or other county official such as the health officer can ask the Board of Supervisors to OK an additional fine of up to $1,000 for every plant in excess of 12.
The ordinance is modeled after Kern County's, and Fresno County Counsel Kevin Briggs said supervisors there typically approve the maximum additional fine of $1,000 per plant.
If the fine goes unpaid, the county can put a lien on the property.
The new ordinance continues Fresno County's ban on medical marijuana dispensaries and the requirement that medical marijuana be consumed only in the person's home.
The supervisors last month asked their legal team to explore ways to toughen the county's laws on illegal marijuana growing.
The move came after several residents -- especially those living in Squaw Valley -- complained about rampant marijuana farming in the area. Some of those residents were in attendance Tuesday.
"We've seen this problem grow exponentially since we've been up there," Squaw Valley resident Dave Wegner said.
At the last supervisors meeting, Squaw Valley residents talked of generators humming all night, dogs running loose and squatters. They said they were afraid to walk off their property or have guests over.
The Sheriff's Office said the current fines were mere slaps on the wrist that growers could easily flaunt.
Undersheriff Steve Wilkins said growers just pay the current $100 fine, and the plants get harvested before a higher fine kicks in. A single plant, Wilkins said, can net more than $4,000, so paying the fine is the better business decision.
"A $100 fine is not much of a deterrent for them," he said.
The new fine would be another part of the arsenal against illegal marijuana grows, Wilkins added. Federal anti-drug efforts will continue, and state law is still an option, even with medical marijuana being legal in California.
Borgeas' term limit plan dies for lack of debate
In other action, Supervisor Andreas Borgeas' idea for term limits and campaign contribution limits was shot down before it even got out of the gate.
Borgeas couldn't get a single one of his colleagues to even discuss the idea, so instead of seeing his motion die without even getting a second, he simply didn't make it.
"I think their silence tells the story," Borgeas said in an interview after the meeting. "I think it is unfortunate that the Board of Supervisors declined today to even debate the merits"of his idea.
Borgeas was pitching his colleagues on a three-term limit for supervisors that he wanted to have voters weigh in on next June. A second facet of his "Fresno County Campaign Reform Act" would have capped contributions, which currently are unlimited.
The limits would have matched those at the state level -- $4,100 per election. In an election year, for instance, a contributor could give $8,200 total to a candidate -- $4,100 for the primary election and the same amount for the general election.
A third and final facet of the proposal would have asked county Clerk Brandi Orth to implement a policy to put all late contributions online no later than three days after they are received. Currently, there is no time requirement to put the documents online, though they are eventually posted.
But after Borgeas finished his pitch and asked for a debate on the issue among his colleagues, there was nothing but silence.
"It's difficult to promote discourse with unwilling parties," Borgeas said.
One option would be to seek voter signatures to put the issue on the ballot independently of the board -- and Borgeas said he has been "approached by a number of individuals to talk about that" -- but he said at this point he was not "not prepared to go in that direction."
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