Fresno County Planning Commission votes to ban marijuana cooperative zoning

The Fresno BeeJanuary 9, 2014 

In a February 2012 file photo, medical marijuana is measured for sale at a Fresno dispensary.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA — THE FRESNO BEE

When Fresno County supervisors outlawed marijuana cultivation this week, they left one option open for marijuana growers.

On Thursday, Fresno County planning commissioners started closing the door on that option, which allows medical marijuana patients to use a manufacturing zone site to grow their plants.

In a 5-1 vote, commissioners Thursday banned cultivation of marijuana in areas specifically zoned for it.

The lone vote against banning pot cultivation in a manufacturing zone came from Commissioner John Lawson, who said the vote was moot since the proposed zoning change would have gone to the supervisors no matter how the commission voted.

"I agree that there have been significant problems and we need to stop it," Lawson said, referring to more than 40 violent incidents in the past two years connected with large-scale marijuana cultivation. "But I don't think this stops the problems."

The manufacturing zone issue could not be approved as part of the Board of Supervisors' action Tuesday because a zone change requires a planning commission hearing, said Bernard Jimenez, deputy director of the county's Department of Public Works and Planning.

The county's ordinance, approved in 2012, allows cultivation of up to 99 plants indoors in manufacturing zones.

However, no permits have been issued to grow marijuana in manufacturing zones.

The ordinance change will go to Fresno County supervisors on Feb. 4 for final approval. If that happens, the zoning ban will go into effect in March. The supervisors' cultivation ban, approved Tuesday, goes into effect next month.

The cities of Fresno, Clovis and other communities continue to operate under different rules for medical marijuana.

Brenda Linder, a medical marijuana lawyer in Fresno, said those rules are less restrictive.

Fresno and Clovis prohibit outdoor growing except in properly equipped buildings, such as a greenhouse. Both cities allow indoor growing for individual patients.

"The county is cutting off very sick people from being able to access what the state says they have a right to use or possess," Linder said.

The cultivation ban will affect thousands of medical marijuana users in Fresno County, said Michael Green, a Fresno medical marijuana advocate.

"The closest lawful dispensaries are in Los Angeles or Oakland," he said. "You are telling patients to go the black market or go three hours in a car."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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