Fresno County leaders have closed the last door that still provided hope to patients and providers wanting to grow medical weed.
County supervisors voted Feb. 4 to shut a loophole that allowed medical marijuana cultivation on manufacturing zone sites. Together with a general ban on pot grows passed in early January, the decision will make it impossible to grow cannabis in any unincorporated parts of the county.
Fresno County now takes the dubious distinction as the hardest place in California for MMJ patients and providers. Voters approved medical pot at the ballot in 1996, but many local governments have been fighting it ever since.
The vote by supervisors supports an earlier decision by the county’s planning board, which voted Jan. 9 to close the loophole. No manufacturing site had ever been rezoned for marijuana use, so the possibility was strictly theoretical, but it was the only remaining way to legally grow weed in Fresno County.
Timothy Jennings told supervisors Feb. 4 that he wants to obey the law but can’t if there is no way to obtain MMJ legally.
“I used to be on 22 separate medications that were killing me in the long run,” Jennings said. “It helps me with my pain, it helps me sleep when nothing else would. I took so many pills . . . they were toxic to my system.”
Supervisors said they imposed the prohibition because of crimes connected to cultivation sites. None of them has explained how Fresno County is worse off than other parts of the state that have not enacted grow bans.
Medical marijuana proponents are trying to stop the ban, without much hope of success. They managed to stall it briefly while they launched an effort to gather 20,130 signatures online by Feb. 6. But even some supporters acknowledged the campaign wasn’t likely to succeed.
Michael Green, an MMJ activist, said he didn’t think volunteers would gather enough signatures in time. But the fight, he said, will continue.
“We have raised awareness of what’s going on,” he said. “It’s been difficult to get signatures from people who don’t know it happened.”
Banning cultivation appears to be a new trend among a small but growing group of local governments. Municipalities were successful in convincing the state Supreme Court last year that they have the legal right to bar medical pot dispensaries. Now some communities are taking that logic further, applying it to all indoor and outdoor grows.
The City of Live Oak was the first, enacting a total ban in 2011. Patient advocates took that law to court, where the appellate judges for Northern California upheld the prohibition. The appeals court said Californians have no legal right to medical marijuana, so local governments are free to outlaw it.
Activists have appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court. If they win there, they could overturn Fresno County’s ban. Even if the signature drive fails, Green said, “this will land in court.”