BY JEFF HORSEMAN
An ordinance imposing fines and possible jail time for growing marijuana in unincorporated parts of Riverside County will get a Sept. 23 public hearing before county supervisors decide whether to enact the new law.
The 5-0 decision by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday came after a small protest by medical marijuana supporters outside the County Administrative Center in downtown Riverside. They carried signs with slogans such as “Respect Patients’ Rights!” and “Help Keep Marijuana Safe!”
Roughly 20 people signed up to speak on the ordinance.
While California voters approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes in 1996, growing marijuana plants for any reason remains illegal in the county, which also bans medical marijuana dispensaries. Federal law prohibits marijuana, a fact new County Counsel Greg Priamos reminded the board.
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries is sponsoring the ordinance to crack down on large-scale, for-profit marijuana grows. Hundreds of marijuana crops are growing in Jeffries’ district and the supervisor fears they are connected to drug cartels.
But Jeffries stressed that his goal is not to punish legitimate medical marijuana users. He noted his ordinance would impose $10 fines for anyone who grows six or fewer plants, indoors or outdoors. Right now, the first-offense fine for growing any amount of marijuana is $100.
“I do not want public safety resources spent going after a handful of plants,” Jeffries said, drawing applause from some in the audience.
Besides fears over cartel involvement, county officials say for-profit grows create odors, increase the risk of crime in communities and lead to illegal water and power hookups.
Under Jeffries’ ordinance, those who grow seven to 11 plants would face $200 fines. Growers of 12 or more plants could be fined up to $1,000 and be jailed for up to six months.
Members of the public who spoke about the ordinance included medical marijuana users and their caregivers, many of whom wore green ribbons. Rebecca McGuire of Banning turned to marijuana to help her now 23-year-old daughter deal with pain from fibromyalgia.
Narcotic medicines made her daughter oversleep and miss class, she said. Medical marijuana allowed her daughter to sleep through the night, and she didn’t wake up stoned, McGuire explained.
McGuire said she went to UC Davis to learn how to grow marijuana plants organically.
“We need to grow it to make sure it’s pure until it becomes an industry where purity is guaranteed,” she said.
Purity also was a concern of Caren Taylor, a Jurupa Valley resident and medical marijuana patient who said she’s not sure what chemicals may have been used on marijuana from outside sources. Dispensary prices can be very high, she added.
Douglas Lanphere, a medical marijuana advocate who said he owns property in three supervisorial districts, urged the board to set up a regulatory framework instead of banning marijuana cultivation. A lack of proper regulation invites a criminal element, he said.
Supervisor Jeff Stone, a pharmacist, criticized the federal government for creating “a disjointed debacle” with conflicting local, state and federal rules regarding medical marijuana. Marijuana does have proven medical benefits for certain patients, Stone said.
“It’s just a waste of public resources when the federal government could solve this problem,” Stone said. “It really is an issue that could be very simply fixed and create a whole new industry” for pharmacies to fill marijuana prescriptions.
The ordinance was to have a Sept. 9 public hearing, but Stone asked that the hearing be moved to Sept. 23. In the meantime, Jeffries said he and Stone would work to craft the ordinance.