The Clovis City Council approved stricter rules Monday night for its 6-year-old medical marijuana ordinance, but rejected an outright ban on pot grows.
Mayor Jose Flores pushed for the ban -- even for medical purposes -- but the council majority backed off after City Attorney David Wolfe said it would be expensive to defend in court.
Wolfe said a complete ban also would hamper the Police Department's efforts to control the cultivation of medical marijuana.
"There are hundreds of personal-use grows in the city," Wolfe said in a staff report. "If [police] had to enforce a complete ban, they would likely be met with resistance and challenges at every step of the way."
The updated ordinance, Wolfe told the council, will give police the authority to direct valid medical marijuana users to grow the crop inside their home where it can't be seen or inside a locked structure on their property.
With Flores dissenting, the council voted 4-1 to enact the ordinance, which takes effect in 30 days. No one from the public spoke against it.
Since 1996, when California voters approved Proposition 215 to permit medical use of marijuana, cities and counties have struggled to enact ordinances governing medical marijuana that can withstand legal challenge.
Clovis already bans outdoor marijuana gardens, dispensaries and patient-to-patient sales.
On Sept. 10, the City Council moved to toughen its rules. Among the changes: growing of pot plants is restricted to a 32-square-foot indoor area that can't be seen from the outside.
Since Sept. 10, Wolfe has researched whether an outright ban could be legally defended. His conclusion: no way.
According to Wolfe, four California cities -- including Selma and Tracy -- have banned medical marijuana. "Legal challenges have been threatened or are pending," Wolfe said, but no California appellate court has addressed the issue.
He advised the council to wait until the California Supreme Court weighs in before tackling a ban.
The updated ordinance, Wolfe said, is a balance between a person's medical needs and potential nuisances that arise from growing the plant.
Police Chief Janet Davis agreed. "This gives us a more effective tool," Davis told the council, adding that police enforce the ordinance when they receive a complaint.