In the final step toward becoming the first California city to regulate medical marijuana cultivation, the Ukiah City Council on Wednesday took more than two hours to hammer out the remaining details of the unprecedented ordinance.
In its unanimous decision, the council voted to adopt nearly every recommendation from the city's Planning Commission.
The most contentious debate centered on the logistics of the plants themselves. Councilman Doug Crane began the discussion by noting that the working draft of the ordinance included a necessary "locked fence/gate." As the plants are allowed to grow upward of six feet, he said, the fence should be mandated to be that height as well.
Both Council members Phil Baldwin and Mari Rodin called the height mandate needless, as a separate section within the ordinance demanded the marijuana be "discrete." Rodin added that perhaps the growers of marijuana would rather use thick bushes to conceal their plants from the public.
Mayor Mark Ashiku entered the debate by backing the "flexibility" the current document gave. But after a lengthy, largely semantical debate, with Crane steadfastly standing his ground, Ashiku suddenly said the consensus has shifted -- and the council agreed on the six-foot fence requirement.
The other discussion focused on the addition by the Planning Commission of a 300-foot radial barrier around city landmarks including schools, parks and elderly communities. Baldwin took exception to the entire rule, but specifically the addition of "religious assemblies" to the list. He said he understood protecting children and the elderly, but couldn't understand why religious congregations were in the 300-foot protection zone.
Councilman John McCowen noted that with the vast number of schools and churches in Ukiah, this clause could end up declaring a "de facto prohibition," where medicinal marijuana cultivation is legal only in theory, as every home in the city fell into the no-pot zone. Planning Director Charley Stump, however, said there were "substantial areas" within city limits that did not fall into these prohibited regions.
Nevertheless, the council penned two alterations to the rule. First, the council chose to delete "religious assembly" from the list, freeing up many homes in Ukiah for marijuana cultivation. The commissioners also chose to give the zoning commission some leeway, permitting homes to grow the plants up to an absolute boundary of 200 feet through a "discretionary review process."
The only major recommendation from the Planning Commission not taken by the City Council put the six-plant limitation on a per-property basis, not per-patient. This decision was reached quickly at the outset of the evening's meeting, with the only apparent disagreement coming in the surprisingly short public comment period.
The hearing's mildness paled in comparison to the combative previous session, when catcalls and vociferous debate rang out from the assembled public. Wednesday night saw only a handful of citizen speakers and besides the stark range of opinion -- one man said medical marijuana threatened his children and another asked how any regulations were permissible under Prop. 215 for those with life-threatening disease -- there was little controversy.
The ordinance, which will take effect Aug. 19, allows no more than six mature or 12 immature marijuana plants to be grown. The council did not define how the maturity of the plants was to be measured. In a move aimed at reducing the pungent odor from Ukiah's neighborhoods, the act restricts patients to only grow two of their six plants outdoors. These gardens must be kept a minimum of 15 feet from all property lines -- another Planning Commission recommendation adopted Wednesday night.
The notion of a regulation ordinance stemmed from last year's marijuana harvest season during which Ukiah residents complained that the undisguised marijuana growing created odor and safety problems. Police blamed at least two violent incidents on attempted marijuana thefts.
Medical marijuana use and cultivation was made legal when California voters approved Prop. 215 in 1996.