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Jeremy Gardea of Santa Rosa says he has nothing against people who use marijuana for medical reasons.

But after another fall harvest season in which his neighbor's marijuana plants grew well above the 8-foot fence that separates their Hull Street homes, the plumber and father of three's compassion finally went up in smoke.

More than a feud between two neighbors, the conflict represents a dramatic showdown over the right of one homeowner under California law to grow marijuana versus the rights of other residents to not have their quality of life or safety threatened by that activity.

Gardea and about 30 neighbors who echo his complaints say Alan MacFarlane's annual marijuana crop creates an unholy stench in the neighborhood off West Third Street near Dutton Avenue, causes noise disturbances related to motion alarms and raises the risk of criminal activity.

That risk is underscored by the number of home-invasion robberies tied to marijuana gardens, including one this month in which three robbers wearing clothing to impersonate law enforcement officials burst into a Todd Road home, handcuffed two residents and fled with 30 marijuana plants.

Gardea said reading about that case was one reason he decided to erect a sign outside his home stating, "Please don't pull a home invasion here. Indoor buds are next door at #116. See Alan."

"When your kids are getting a contact high and you read about home invasions in the city," Gardea said, "hell yeah, I'll put that sign up if it's going to protect my kids."

Another sign, posted on 10-foot poles, pleads with MacFarlane to "stop destroying the integrity of our neighborhood and our children's safety. No more weed." Still another sign refers to MacFarlane as a "pot dealer."

Standing on a front porch enclosed by lattice work and a sign warning about the watchdog, MacFarlane said this week that he merely grows "medicine" for his private use and several "patients," and that Gardea has a vendetta against him.

"He's concerned about an invasion and crime? He's inviting it. Does he care about his neighbors? I don't think so," MacFarlane said as the smell of marijuana smoke wafted from his open front door.

Some neighbors agree with him.

"I have nothing against Alan. He's helpful and respectful," said Sarah Desmond, whose home of 18 years is across the street from MacFarlane's. "I'm really angry about those signs that went up. They're jeopardizing the whole neighborhood."

MacFarlane, a former combat law enforcement specialist in the Air Force, is a known figure locally, having been acquitted in Sonoma County's first medical marijuana case to go to a jury in 2001. He said he has physician approval to use marijuana to deal with chronic pain related to the removal of his cancerous thyroid 25 years ago.

The 2001 case exposed the confusion related to Prop. 215, the landmark 1996 California legislation that allows marijuana use for medical reasons. Jurors ultimately decided that the approximately 100 plants seized by drug agents at MacFarlane's home were not in violation of that law.

Since then, the county Board of Supervisors and Sonoma County Police Chiefs Association have amended the rules to allow those with a physician's recommendation to possess up to 30 plants and 3 pounds of marijuana. That's still well over state regulations, which allow for 12 plants and 8 ounces.

Each individual grower is also limited to keeping their crop within a 100 square foot radius. Video that Gardea shot of MacFarlane's back yard at the height of this year's season showed some plants at least 8 feet tall and higher. The height apparently does not violate any regulations.

MacFarlane said he provides the space and equipment for himself and up to four medical marijuana patients to grow their alloted amounts. He said of 100 plants he planted this season, only 24 made it to harvest.

As for concerns that his plants are too high and attracting unwanted attention, MacFarlane said: "The only thing that's medicine is the flower. Ninety percent of what's there is not medicine."

Sheriff's Sgt. Chris Bertoli said MacFarlane's operation sounds like a "co-op," which, unlike a dispensary, does not require a business license to operate.

"If we were to go over there and serve a search warrant, and he showed us recommendations for people growing there, we would probably contact those people to confirm if everything was correct and probably turn around and walk away and leave the operation intact," said Bertoli, who oversees the sheriff's narcotics division.

That's of little comfort to some neighbors who complain about the heavy stench of marijuana wafting into their homes.

"I don't let my 11-year-old out in the back yard, especially during the harvest season, because the smell of the plants fills our house," said Christi Corradi, an art teacher for at-risk youth whose Garden Street back yard abuts MacFarlane's.

Her neighbor, Stan Carter, said he filed a sheriff's report in summer 2007 after he and his wife were awakened by the sound of a gunshot and men running past their window. He said they later discovered a trail of marijuana in their back yard leading from MacFarlane's property.

"I've got five grandchildren," Carter said. "I can't afford a loose cannon in the neighborhood."

About 30 neighbors signed a certified letter given to MacFarlane earlier this month in which they demand that he address the nuisances allegedly created by growing marijuana, including the discharge of firearms, verbal threats, smell of marijuana and the noise of motion sensitive alarms.

Gardea, who led the petition drive, said he has tripped the alarms by merely walking into his back yard. He also claims MacFarlane confronted him with a shotgun, an allegation the disabled vet denies.

Gardea and other neighbors said they are planning to sue MacFarlane in small claims court, an increasingly common tactic used in neighborhood disputes. In May, a judge awarded 14 residents a combined $106,000 in damages after they sued a Davis Street homeowner for allowing drug dealing and prostitution at the home.

Allen Thomas, a West End Neighborhood Association activist who helped lead that effort, is now assisting Gardea.

"We want to help because what affects that neighborhood has a spillover effect in our neighborhood," Thomas said.

MacFarlane faces another potential problem related to the greenhouse where he grows more marijuana.

Acting on a complaint filed in November 2004, county code enforcement officers determined that the greenhouse was built without proper permits, according to Ben Neuman, the county's code enforcement manager.

However, Neuman said any action, which could include MacFarlane having to demolish the greenhouse at his own expense, should have occurred three years ago, after authorities sent notice to MacFarlane that he was in violation of the rules.

Neuman blamed the delay on the volume of building code violations handled by the agency as well as priorities for handling them that are set by county supervisors. The most pressing are substandard housing complaints.

Neuman said MacFarlane's case could receive a higher priority now that neighborhood concerns are known.

His office also received a complaint this month about Gardea's signs. Neuman said whether they are allowed to remain will depend on whether they are deemed free speech or fall under county regulations.

The sign in which would-be thieves are pointed to MacFarlane's house may be an example of prohibited use, Neuman said. Merely expressing an opinion about the merits of growing pot probably would not.

The signs have divided neighbors, with some viewing them as a father's admirable stance and others who look at them as inviting more trouble.

"That's calling people to come over and vandalize our neighborhood," said Jesus Gonzalez, who lives across the street from Gardea. "That makes it worse."

Bertoli, however, said signs probably aren't necessary to alert would-be criminals to the presence of the pot.

"People know who's got backyard gardens because they talk, and when plants get to be 10 feet tall, you can drive down the street and smell it," he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek J. Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com.