|Photo: Mark Crosse/The Fresno Bee
|Fresno Police discovered this field of marijuana — easily visible from the street — growing over the top of a fence in a residential area in September.
A Fresno County, California ordinance that bans outdoor medical marijuana gardens is valid, a judged ruled Wednesday, but backyard growers have until midnight on November 30 to harvest their crops.
County officials couldn’t immediately enforce the ordinance, Superior Court Judge Jeff Hamilton ruled, because they had failed to prove that outdoor gardens were an imminent threat to public safety, reports Pablo Lopez at The Fresno Bee.
Because of recent violence associated with marijuana gardens, the Board of Supervisors on September 14 approved the ordinance banning outdoor medical marijuana gardens in unincorporated areas.
Fresno attorney Brenda Linder sued the county in October on behalf of doctor-authorized patients who grow cannabis themselves.
Linder’s lawsuit contends that the ordinance conflicts with Prop 215, the 1996 state law allowing California residents with medical marijuana cards to grow the crop for personal use.
Linder had persuaded Judge Hamilton in a mid-October hearing to lift the ban temporarily until Wednesday’s hearing on whether to lift it permanently.
Hamilton criticized county officials during Wednesday’s hearing for failing to explain why it was so urgent to ban the gardens, especially since voters approved the state law 14 years ago.
“How else will they get it? From the medical marijuana fairy?” the judge asked attorney Jeff Dunn of Irvine, who represented the county.
Dunn claimed that cities and counties have a right to regulate marijuana distribution. More than 200 municipalities in California have done so, he said.
Linder, on the other hand, told Judge Hamilton that those ordinances target medical marijuana dispensaries, not gardens of people who grow it for medical use. She said Fresno County’s ordinance banning outdoor cultivation is unprecedented.
Judge Hamilton criticized Fresno County’s rationale for the ordinance, noting that when it was passed, county officials cited recent shootings that had occurred in or near marijuana gardens. But Hamilton said those shootings had occurred in the city of Fresno, not in unincorporated areas of the county.
Hamilton said in his ruling that growers who planted their medical marijuana before the September 14 ordinance have a vested interest in their crop, so they have until midnight November 30 to harvest it.
After that time, county officials can enforce the outdoor cultivation ban, he sasid.
Linder told the judge this ruling puts people at risk because they may resort to street dealers to get their marijuana. She said she plans pursue her lawsuit challenging the ordinance.
“State law gives the people the vested right to grow it,” she said. “County officials have stuck their heads in the sand for 14 years. Now they think they have an unrestricted right to ban it.”