Fresno council committee formed to review marijuana growing

The Fresno BeeMarch 27, 2014 

Marijuana plant.

FRESNO BEE FILE PHOTO

The Fresno City Council has created a committee to see if there's a way for medical marijuana users to get their medicine locally without breaking city laws.

Council President Steve Brandau on Thursday appointed Council Members Blong Xiong, Oliver Baines and Clint Olivier to a temporary panel charged with finding solutions to a persistent City Hall challenge.

City leaders make no secret of their opposition to aspects of the marijuana industry, in particular the cultivation of plants. The council two years ago banned most outdoor growing sites. The council last week closed the remaining legal avenues of cultivation. They passed (for introduction) a law banning, among other things, indoor growing operations.

Police Chief Jerry Dyer said many are, at best, a public nuisance. Often, he said, they are spurs to violence and other criminal behavior.

Several council members acknowledged that some people in ill health have a legitimate need and legal right to medical marijuana. Prompted by public outcry, council members vaguely promised to do something for patients with no desire to drive to other cities for legal purchases.

The council on Thursday voted 6-1 (Olivier voting no without explanation) to adopt the new law. It goes into effect in a month. Growers with indoor plants will then have 120 days to harvest their crop.

After that, civil (not criminal) penalties kick in: $1,000 for each plant plus $100 per plant per day that the plant remains in the ground past the abatement deadline.

But a lot had changed in a week.

Public frustration this time was more organized and impassioned. Speakers told of their health problems. They said society is rapidly moving toward a more nuanced approach to marijuana consumption. They asked the council to rethink the issue.

Baines said he had already asked City Attorney Doug Sloan to find ideas to satisfy everyone. Others from the dais seconded the idea. Dyer said he would help.

Brandau wasted no time filling the committee. He said the council will review the recommendations long before the 120-day abatement period ends.

Andrea Lomascola after the vote said she wants to believe City Hall will come to the aid of marijuana users such as herself.

"But I'm hesitant," she said.

The council on Thursday also held a workshop on Mayor Ashley Swearengin's possible Fiscal Year 2015 budget. The actual budget proposal won't reach the council until May.

City Manager Bruce Rudd said the $287.3 million general fund budget includes one-time windfalls. He recommends that the city focus on public safety, jobs, new equipment and paying off internal debts.

Council members were cautious in reply. They asked about levels of street maintenance, hiring policies in code enforcement and the timeline for rebuilding a reserve. They agreed that budget hearings in two months will be lively.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or ghostetter@fresnobee.com. Read his City Beat blog at fresnobee.com/city-beat.

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