By Jeff Horseman
After months of work, new rules intended to stop marijuana grows from taking root in rural parts of Riverside County get a public hearing before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, May 19.
Growing marijuana, indoors or outdoors, for any reason is already illegal.
“The purpose of these ordinances are to provide for greater enforcement against large-scale marijuana cultivation with the goal of improving community livability … while also recognizing a limited enforcement exemption” for medical marijuana patients, read a county staff report.
County officials have been refining the ordinances since summer, when Supervisor Kevin Jeffries sought a solution to what he described as the prolific spread of backyard marijuana grows, especially in Meadowbrook, Good Hope and other parts of his district.
In December, Jeffries said there were at least 300 marijuana crops in his district alone. Officials said recruiters go door to door and offer homeowners or renters as much as $2,000 a month to allow their property to be used to grow marijuana.
The crops are typically shrouded by chain-link fences covered by dark tarps. Posted notices indicate the marijuana is being grown for medical use, and at least one Mead Valley crop last summer had the notice posted skyward in case a police helicopter hovered overhead.
Citing federal drug enforcement officers, Jeffries contends that many grows are linked to organized crime and produce plants for commercial sale. The crops create neighborhood nuisances, attract criminals and spur the theft of electricity and water, county officials have said.
The proposed ordinances allow county code enforcement officers to give offenders 10 days to remove their crops. Those caught growing marijuana could be subject to misdemeanors and civil penalties of up to $1,000 a day, and the county can force property owners to cover the costs of destroying the plants.
Exemptions would be made for medical marijuana patients and their caregivers. Patients would be limited to 12 plants each — limit 24 per property — and they would have to comply with other rules, such as concealing the plants from the public right-of-way.
At least one patient or caregiver must live on the property and patients must have valid medical marijuana cards from the county public health department, which issued 625 cards in 2013, 821 in 2014 and 282 so far this year.
The initial effort to curb marijuana grows faced opposition from medical marijuana advocates who feared the new regulations would deny legitimate patients access to medicine.
Lanny Swerdlow, a pro-marijuana activist from Whitewater, said the proposed ordinances have flaws. For example, he objects to not allowing plants to be grown on properties located within 1,000 feet of a school, community center or park.
That said, “Basically the ordinance is good,” Swerdlow said. “It’s way better than what many other cities and counties have enacted and Riverside County is to be complimented, for the first time, for being (at) the vanguard of helping medical marijuana patients.”