Growing discussion | Council forms committee to look at medical marijuana cultivation ordinance
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Medical marijuana advocates scored a victory Thursday when the South Lake Tahoe City Council backed away from a proposed ordinance that would place a long list of restrictions on medical marijuana cultivation in the city.
After more than four hours of sometimes heated public debate, the council unanimously approved the formation of a committee to look at how the cultivation of medical marijuana should be regulated.
The group is scheduled to present the city council with a revised medical marijuana cultivation ordinance at the council’s Oct. 5 meeting.
Thursday’s decision was greeted with a rare round of applause from audience members seated in the city council chambers.
More than 100 people gathered to hear the council’s discussion. Some watched the proceedings on a television outside council chambers after Fire Marshal Ray Zachau determined the room’s occupancy limit had been exceeded.
Representatives from the medical marijuana collectives in the city pushed for creation of the committee on Thursday, following a lack of input from the medical marijuana community in the development of the cultivation ordinance.
A single meeting between medical marijuana advocates and city staff after the city council imposed a moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries in November 2009 was unsatisfactory, according to the operators of the collectives.
The cultivation ordinance and a proposed ban on medical marijuana dispensaries are moving forward under separate processes, but many in Thursday’s audience viewed the issues as inseparable because local marijuana growers provide medical marijuana to the collectives.
A ban on cultivation in commercial buildings could also adversely effect the collectives because each of the patient groups grow medical marijuana at their facilities, although not necessarily to the point of harvest, said Matt Triglia, one of the owners of Patient to Patient Collective.
“Let us have a fair process because, simply, we have not had that chance,” said Cody Bass, the owner of Tahoe Wellness Collective, on Thursday.
Several medical marijuana advocates said the regulations, as proposed on Thursday, were unreasonable because they were developed without the input from the people knowledgeable about medical marijuana cultivation.
Of particular concern to advocates were portions of the proposed ordinance limiting limited medical marijuana grows to 1200 watts and 50 square feet. Many said the regulations would effectively limit patients’ access to medical marijuana in violation of state law.
“Realistically, you’re trying to do something that, you’re not prepared for,” said Gino DiMatteo, the owner of the City of Angels 2 collective. “The language in the ordinance is not specific to the needs of the people.”
“Twelve-hundred watts is not isn’t enough for my personal use as per my doctor,” said medical marijuana patient Andrea Adams earlier in the meeting.
The city council needs expert advice prior to setting any regulations regarding wattage of medical marijuana grows, Adams said.
Several people said the language of the ordinance, as proposed, left the regulations open to legal challenge.
The ordinance was written after consultation with the fire department, the building department and looking at regulations other cities had enacted regarding medical marijuana cultivation, said City Attorney Patrick Enright.
The 1200-watt limit was used because of the threat of resistance heating posed by higher wattage, said Fire Marshall Ray Zachau.
Las Vegas resident Steve Crupi and South Lake Tahoe resident John Cefalu both said they supported the ordinance as written.
Crupi, who contends a medical marijuana growing operation caused more than $10,000 in damage to a rental property he owns in Meyers, listed the fire danger among the concerns he had with unregulated medical marijuana grows. He said the council should pass the ordinance as soon as possible.
Although he said the ordinance proposed Thursday “wasn’t perfect,” Cefalu said he supported the regulations because of the substantial tab property owners could be left with following an improperly constructed medical marijuana operation.
“This is an ordinance that’s necessary because there’s a threat to property,” Cefalu said.
South Lake Tahoe resident Jan McCarthy said she respected the rights of medical marijuana users, but said some sort of regulation is needed to protect landlords from potential damages caused by poorly constructed marijuana grows.
A medical marijuana grower caused more than $30,000 in damage to a rental property she owns, McCarthy said.
Near the start of the meeting, City Councilman Bill Crawford said he supported some sort of regulation, but said he could not support the vague language included in Thursday’s proposed ordinance.
Precise language is necessary if you want effective laws, Crawford said.
“This sort of thing is very important, we could be headed for a lot of trouble,” Crawford warned.
Language in the ordinance opened the door to subjective enforcement, similar to the complaint-based sign ordinance, Crawford said.
The councilman said he supported creation of the committee because of the improvements needed to the ordinance, as well as previous statements members of the council have made to the collectives about their involvement in medical marijuana regulation.
“We need to keep the faith. We need to keep our promises,” Crawford said. “If we don’t, we’ll never be trusted.”
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A $20,000 fine and permanent ban could eventually await those operating vacation home rentals in Douglas County without a permit.