Despite code changes, regs still apply for growing marijuana in South Lake Tahoe
Though it is still undecided whether the commercial sale of recreational marijuana will be allowed in South Lake Tahoe in 2018, residents can now grow up to six plants for personal use.
But before heading to the hardware store to stock up on grow lights and fertilizer, there are a few things residents need to know.
At the Feb. 7 City Council meeting, the medical marijuana cultivation ordinance was amended so that now medical and recreational marijuana grows are regulated under the same code.
“We are making the change to eliminate the permit requirement, eliminate the 200 square foot requirement, and allow any individual in a residential facility, residential home, to grow six plants consistent with Prop. 64,” City Attorney Tom Watson said at the meeting.
Though residents don’t need a permit from the city to have plants, there are other requirements that must be met when setting up a personal grow facility.
“If people alter anything in their home in regards to electrical, ventilation or irrigation, they will need a building permit. I don’t care if it’s for tomato plants, herbs or marijuana,” said Dave Walker, deputy building official for the city.
DIY home alterations can lead to major safety issues, said Walker. High-powered grow lights, for instance, put off a lot of heat and can cause fires without proper ventilation.
Some grow lights can heat up to 500 degrees, said Walker, who is responsible for inspecting medical marijuana grows in the city.
There is some gray area when it comes to what necessitates a building permit and what might not — like plugging in one low-powered grow light — but Walker said when in doubt, check with the city. It’s about safety, he added.
Cody Bass, executive director of South Lake Tahoe’s lone medical marijuana dispensary, agrees that ventilation is the No. 1 priority.
“The main thing with indoor growing is you have to know you have the right space. You don’t want to grow somewhere that you can’t make the proper holes to ventilate,” explained Bass.
The Tahoe Wellness Cooperative has three grow rooms for cultivating medical marijuana, which is higher in non-psychoactive CBD versus the higher levels of THC found in recreational marijuana. A system of vents and fans circulates outside air through the rooms, each of which is at a different point in the grow cycle.
Ventilation is not only important to move out the heat from the grow lamps, said Bass, but also to keep the plants flourishing.
“These plants breathe [carbon dioxide], and if you don’t have the air exchange they will breathe it all up and are not going to be happy,” he explained.
Some growing newbies might consider skipping the hassle of grow lights and setting their plants by the window, but that is unlikely to produce a healthy, hearty crop unless the plants can get consistent 12-hour periods of direct sunlight.
In addition to building requirements for residential grow facilities, there are other restrictions in place for cultivating marijuana.
A renter, for example, must get permission from the landlord. And while outdoor cultivation is prohibited, you can grow inside a greenhouse or shed, but it must be locked. Similarly, building codes must be complied with when adding in ventilation or lighting to these structures.
At the end of the day: no cultivation permit does not mean no rules.