Fresno County supervisors budged a little from a hardened position Tuesday of opposing marijuana cultivation, but only because of a change in state rules.
The supervisors previously approved an emergency ordinance after Proposition 64’s passage. On Tuesday, supervisors re-examined the ordinance. Supervisors discussed their plans moving forward, prohibiting many provisions of Proposition 64 from taking effect in Fresno County except the state’s new guideline allowing personal possession of six plants indoors.
Under the state guidelines adopted by the county, six plants can be grown inside a home within a locked space and not visible by “normal unaided vision from a public place.”
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Previously, the county’s ban prohibited indoor and outdoor cultivation in unincorporated areas of Fresno County.
Supervisors still oppose cultivation outdoors under all circumstances. Board members also preserved an administrative fine of $1,000 per plant.
Supervisors also want to continue outlawing pot dispensaries. The ordinance is expected to return to supervisors later this year for approval.
Under the county’s 2014 ordinance, county supervisors also had the duty of hearing appeals from residents who were fined. They would hear from renters and property owners and sometimes reduce fines.
But the county also ran into legal issues over the process used in removing plants.
Several cases went to Superior Court. In one case, the county withdrew its $43,000 fine because a judge ruled the county didn’t follow state nuisance abatement guidelines that allow 15 days to remove a nuisance, in this case, the plants.
Courts recognized you have to have a substantial fine for enforcement purposes.
Dan Cederborg, Fresno County counsel
Fresno County Counsel Dan Cederborg said the $1,000 per plant fine has been upheld in courts around the state and serves as a deterrent for those wanting to grow marijuana on a large scale.
“Courts recognized you have to have a substantial fine for enforcement purposes,” he said.
Sheriff Margaret Mims in 2013 proposed the ordinance because of escalating crime at homes and on properties where marijuana was grown, including murders, assaults, robberies and thefts.
Fresno County sheriff's officials told supervisors there were 47 incidents of crime related to marijuana growing in 2013, but only about a third of that number the next year. And, the numbers have continued to decline “because of the penalties in our policy,” Supervisor Andreas Borgeas said.
Supervisors also voted to remove themselves from the appeals process by approving plans for a hearing officer. After sheriff’s deputies raided properties, residents could file appeals in front of supervisors. The meetings were hours long and led to continued hearings for some residents as other appeals piled up.
“Not having a hearing officer was cumbersome,” said Supervisor Buddy Mendes.
Sometimes supervisors levied fines as proposed by sheriff’s deputies, but other times they lowered fines or split fines among property owners and renters.
Cederborg said a hearing officer will have the same latitude as supervisors when it comes to adjusting fines.
Fresno County also intends to work with the city of Fresno to ensure the two jurisdictions have similar rules.
“The whole idea is continuity of the policy so that on one side of the street you have one policy and on the other side you don’t have something different,” Cederborg said.