Fresno County leaders went all in on a controversial assault on medical marijuana patients and caregivers in January.
County supervisors voted 5-0 Jan. 7 to ban all marijuana cultivation in unincorporated parts of the county, indoors and out. The ordinance, possibly the tightest in the state, will take effect in February.
Residents who violate the new ban will face a fine of $1,000 per plant, plus a fine of $100 per plant for each day the plant remains after it’s discovered. Breaking the ordinance would be considered a misdemeanor.
MMJ proponents pleaded with the Board of Supervisors to reconsider. The board voted at an earlier meeting to approve the plan, then confirmed that vote Jan. 7.
“You are speaking about a significant number of people who will be negatively affected,” said Joe Elford, a medical pot lawyer who is fighting a court decision that allowed the blackout in Fresno County. “It clearly goes against what California voters intended.”
Medical cannabis has been legal in the state since 1996, when voters approved it by referendum. A bill passed by state lawmakers in 2003 enacted the system that allows patients to register and obtain weed.
But retail pot dispensaries soon became so common across the state that local governments tried to rein them in. Many used zoning rules to ban pot shops, a move sanctioned by the California Supreme Court last year.
Now communities with a political crusade against weed are using a new tactic, trying to prohibit all grows – even though the 1996 ballot initiative explicitly made cultivation legal. The City of Live Oak became the first locality to do so.
Fresno County already limited MMJ users to 12 plants, but once city leaders learned about Live Oak’s rule, they decided to go with an all-out ban. That approach won the approval of the state’s Third Circuit Court of Appeal, which ruled in favor of Live Oak in November. Elford has appealed that decision on behalf of medical marijuana patients.
“Fresno County is now inviting a legal case against them,” he said. “It’s hasty action that could end up costing taxpayers money.”
Board Chairman Andreas Borgeas contended the ordinance doesn’t violate the state’s MMJ law because it doesn’t prevent users from getting their medication elsewhere.
“Those that have the proper documentation are still legally capable of smoking and using cannabis,” he said. “It’s stopping cultivation.”
Nonetheless, the new law is part of a thinly veiled attempt in conservative parts of the state, backed by law enforcement, to gut California’s medical marijuana law. It’s a quixotic campaign, with full statewide legalization just around the corner, but one whose adherents seem unlikely to quit anytime soon.