Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

June 15, 2010
Tehama looks to curb cultivation, draws suit over medical rights

RCB_2010515_POTGROWER_ 007.JPGTucked in the upper reaches of California's Central Valley, Tehama County extends westward into mountainous terrain bordering Mendocino and Trinity counties - two-thirds of California's legendary Emerald Triangle.

Including Humboldt County, the three Emerald Triangle counties are known for two things: their thick curtains of coastal redwoods and their renown as America's prime growing region for marijuana.

But recently, the Tehama County Board of Supervisors essentially declared that they wanted no part of an Emerald Quadrangle.

The supervisors on April 6 passed a strict marijuana cultivation ordinance, directly challenging the growing rights of medical marijuana patients and vowing to keep Tehama from becoming an unchecked plantation for medicinal weed.

The county effort is now drawing a legal challenge from a group of medical pot users and cultivators. They charge the county is violating the state's medical marijuana law by limiting the number of plants patients can grow and banning cultivation within 1,000 feet of a school or 100 feet of a property line.

In passing the marijuana cultivation ordinance, the supervisors declared in a formal "findings" that they were passing the law, "including restrictions on the amount of marijuana that may be individually or cooperatively cultivated, in order to protect the public health, safety and welfare in Tehama County."

The board's findings went on to state: "The limited right of qualified patients and their primary caregivers under state law to cultivate marijuana plants for medical purposes does not confer the right to create or maintain a public nuisance."

The Tehama ordinance allows a maximum of 12 mature plants or 24 immature plants on parcels of 20 acres or less.

But plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the county charge that Tehama supervisors are violating individual property rights and forcing patients who cultivate collectively to accept tighter restrictions on growing than they are allowed under state law.

"The ordinance is an affront to property rights as well as patients' rights," one of the Tehama plantiffs, Jason Browne, said in a statement.

California law allows individual medical users to cultivate six mature or 12 immature plants and to possess eight ounces of dried marijuana. The limits are accepted by most local jurisdictions. Some cities and counties have voted to allow higher levels of growing.

The patients' lawsuit, supported by the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the Tehama County law creates hardships for patients who routinely cultivate collectively on single parcels.

For example, a half dozen medical users could cultivate a combined 36 mature marijuana plants under state law, three times what they are allowed to have on a parcel 20 acres or less in Tehama. The county ordinance does allow up 99 plants on properties of 160 acres or more.

The Tehama law comes months after the California Supreme Court ruled that patients cannot be convicted of a crime simply for exceeding state's plant limit. The court ruled that patients can possess any amount of marijuana related to their medical needs.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of 10 Tehama medical marijuana users declared that the county ordinance is "unconstitutional on its face" in limiting "the cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes."

The suit said California's 1996 Proposition 215 medical marijuana law "did not place any limits on the location where qualified patients, and/or their primary caregivers may cultivate marijuana plants."

"The right to cultivate is fundamental to Prop 215's mandate," said California NORML director Dale Gieringer, one of the initiative authors.

To see the Tehama lawsuit, click here.

Pictured: Tehama County is seeking to limit the number of pot plants large and small on local parcels. Renee C. Byer/rbyer@sacbee.com

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