Fresno County is shutting the door on the last option for residents who want to grow pot under California’s medical marijuana law.
The county’s planning commission voted 5-1 Jan. 9 to ban cannabis cultivation in the last place it was still allowed, manufacturing sites. None of these locations had ever been zoned for marijuana use, but the possibility remained even as county supervisors acted to eradicate all weed grows, including those allowed under the MMJ law.
Commissioner John Lawson was the sole member of the planning board to vote against the ban, saying it was moot because any zoning change would require a vote by the supervisors anyway.
“I agree that there have been significant problems and we need to stop it,” Lawson said. “But I don’t think this stops the problems.”
On Jan. 7, supervisors voted 5-0 to ban all cultivation in unincorporated areas of the county, effective in early February. It was their second and final vote on the matter. The planning commission’s decision will go before supervisors Feb. 4 and would take effect in March if passed.
Fresno County has become ground zero for a new battle in California over medical marijuana and patients’ rights. Over the past few years, several local governments have prohibited cannabis grows despite the state’s medical marijuana law, which specifically allows patients to grow their own weed. Fresno County’s restriction may be the toughest.
The bans stem from a 2013 ruling by the state Supreme Court, which held that cities, towns and counties may ban medical marijuana dispensaries in their borders.
But a different court took that ruling even further. After the City of Live Oak banned all cultivation in 2011, patient advocates sued. The Third Circuit Court of Appeal, which covers Northern California, ruled in the city’s favor, saying neither the medical pot law nor the state constitution create a right to cultivate weed.
That ruling has been appealed to the state Supreme Court, and the outcome could determine the future of medical marijuana in California. If the court upholds Live Oak’s ban, and those like it in Fresno County and elsewhere, the law could essentially be gutted wherever cultivation bans are enacted.
Medical pot shops are already banned everywhere in Fresno County.
“The closest lawful dispensaries are in Los Angeles or Oakland,” said Michael Green, a medical cannabis advocate in Fresno. “You are telling patients to go to the black market or go three hours in a car.”
Fresno County’s ban covers indoor and outdoor grows. A fine of $1,000 per plant applies, plus a fine of $100 per plant each day the plants remain.