Fresno County Bans All Medical Marijuana Cultivation

by Steve Elliott, Hemp News

In a sobering reminder of just how backward county governments can still be, even in California, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday ignored the objections of patients and banned all medical marijuana cultivation in the county’s unincorporated areas with a 5-0 vote. The ban takes effect next month.

The county is also banning medical marijuana dispensaries and collectives, leaving patients with no legal access to medicine, reports California NORML. “The Fresno ordinance is in blatant conflict with the intent of the Compassionate Use Act to ensure access to medical marijuana for all patients in medical need,” the group said in a statement.

Those who defy the ban will be fined $1,000 per plant, reports Marc Benjamin at the Fresno Bee. The ordinance also adds a fine of $100 per plant, per day for each day the plants remain after they are initially discovered.

Violations of the “public nuisance” ordinance would trigger misdemeanor fines.

Appeals of the ordinance and its citations will be heard by the Board of Supervisors; the ban takes effect in 30 days.

Fresno County is apparently the first in California to completely ban the cultivation of medical marijuana, according to Joe Elford, a lawyer based in San Francisco. In a lawsuit supported by Cal NORML, Elford has filed a motion challenging the right of local governments to ban medical marijuana cultivation.

“You are speaking about a significant number of people who will be negatively affected,” Elford said. “It clearly goes against what California voters intended.” Elford was referring to Prop 215, the law allowing medicinal use of marijuana which was approved by state voters in 1996.

Fresno County had initially modeled its cultivation ban after one in Kern County that limits medical marijuana patients to 12 plants, but they took it a big step further after county officials found out that Live Oak, a city near Sacramento, had completely banned cannabis cultivation.

The Live Oak ordinance was upheld on appeal. Elford said he has petitioned the California Supreme Court to review the recent Appellate Court decision, Maral v. Live Oak, which upheld that Sutter County city’s ordinance banning all cannabis cultivation.

It could be at least 30 days before the state Supreme Court decides to review the challenge.

“The right to cultivation is fundamental to Prop 215,” said Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML. “We must not let this attack go unchallenged.” Patients whose rights are violated by local cultivation bans are invited to report their complaints to Cal NORML at canormal@canorml.org.

“Fresno County is now inviting a legal case against them,” Elford said. “It’s hasty action that could end up costing taxpayers money.”

Medical marijuana patients told the board on Tuesday that they shouldn’t have to travel long distances for safe access. “We need legal dispensaries and we need to have patients that can grow their own medicine,” said Diane Valdovinos of San Francisco.

Sheriff Margaret Mims is in favor of the marijuana cultivation ban, and she said it couldn’t come soon enough. She claimed there were 20 violent incidents involving cannabis cultivation in 2013.

“Had this not gotten out of control it may not have resulted in an ordinance like this,” Mims said, claiming that “the cost of enforcement” is $307,000 annually.

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