Opinion varies on outdoor pot rule; concerns over plant, property size limitations voiced to Planning Commission

Public opinion on a proposed outdoor marijuana grow ordinance varied among growers and their neighbors during the Planning Commission's Thursday evening meeting. The ordinance that amends the Coastal and Inland Zoning Regulations sections of the county code limits patients to five mature plants with a canopy no larger than 50 square feet on property ranging from a half-acre to five acres in size. _A.B. Dugan of Willow Creek said that odors associated with large outdoor grows have disrupted the quality of life at his Willow Creek home, and he came to support the ordinance.

"If you want to grow marijuana in large batches, go to an agricultural zone where there is plenty of room for this," he said. "You tell me that this is for medicine. This is for pure profit and profit only. I implore you to improve this ordinance."

The board of supervisors' medical marijuana subcommittee recommended staff to draft the ordinance in October after residents in several neighborhoods filed complaints of excessive grows and strong odors. The ordinance prohibits outdoor grows on property smaller than a half-acre, but patients are still able to grow plants no taller than 10 feet with a canopy size no larger than 50 square feet within their home under a similar ordinance approved by the board of supervisors in 2011. A patient will not be able to grow plants on their property if they are already growing plants indoors under the draft ordinance.

Medical marijuana patient James Ficklin said that he agreed that large outdoor grows can be disruptive, but said the limit of five plants would have problems of its own.

"Five plants is pretty small for a medical marijuana garden, but it's way too vague," he said. "You're pushing people indoors ... The indoor grows are more pest laden. The insects thrive indoors and growers tend to use more pesticides in an indoor grow room."

Under the ordinance, plants must be set back at least 20 feet from neighboring structures and 600 feet from public areas, such as schools and parks.

Though medical marijuana was legalized under Proposition 215 passed in California in 1996, commissioner Susan Masten was concerned about the federal government's outlook on the ordinance. "We're bound by state and federal law," Masten said. "This is still a federal offense. How do we deal with that?"

Masten also brought up environmental concerns of water diversion during a period of drought, which Planning and Building Department planner Steve Lazar clarified.

"Nothing in our ordinance would allow for water diversion," Lazar said.

With discussion of the ordinance occurring during the last 45 minutes of the nearly four-hour meeting, local resident Bonnie Blackberry expressed her frustration.

"This is a controversial ordinance," she said. "I think scheduling this and starting to discuss it at 9 p.m. ... for all of us who drove a long way, it's a bit frustrating. I hope you reschedule this."

Commissioner Lee Ulansey said he suspected that the commission "was not going to get through" discussion of the ordinance due to the time constraint of the meeting.

No decision was made on the ordinance by Times-Standard deadline. After the commission's review is complete, the ordinance will be sent to the board for final approval.

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504 or whouston@times-standard.com. Follow him on Twitter.com/Will_S_Houston.