Healdsburg soon could become the second city in Sonoma County to set rules for growing medical marijuana.
Under regulations proposed by Police Chief Kevin Burke, patients could grow up to 12 mature plants and 24 immature ones — twice what state law allows.
But the garden would have to be indoors to deter the possibility of rip-offs, and contain the potent odor of the flowering plants, which can resemble that of a skunk.
"Any growing outside creates difficulties," Burke said in an interview. He said the smell makes living next to it difficult and "outdoor grows are vulnerable to theft from people of all ages, including minors."
The Planning Commission last week unanimously recommended the City Council approve the new guidelines, which also would limit cultivation near schools, churches, hospitals, parks, child care and youth centers.
The City Council is scheduled to consider the topic at its June 3 meeting.
So far, it has not been controversial, said Planning Director Barbara Nelson.
A spokesperson for Sonoma Alliance for Medical Marijuana on Friday said the ordinance sounds reasonable, although she had qualms about restricting cultivation to indoors.
"My only caveat of concern is we are putting more of a carbon footprint out there with indoor growth and it's not technically a green operation," said SAMM spokesperson Mary Pat Jacobs.
But in general she said regulation is a good thing, in order to control the criminal and gang element.
"Patients will not be safe and their medicine will not be affordable until there's regulation for all responsible adults," she said.
Like most cities in Sonoma County — other than Santa Rosa, Sebastopol and Cotati — Healdsburg bans marijuana dispensaries.
The impetus for a Healdsburg ordinance regulating cultivation comes from periodic complaints to the police and planning departments about pot plants, Burke said.
The city also wants to avoid incidents of violence associated with marijuana, including use of guns to either steal or defend plants. In a memo to planners, Burke said although Healdsburg has avoided serious injuries or shots fired, it is just a matter of time, absent regulation.
Since 2009, Healdsburg Police have formally investigated 23 instances of cultivation, mostly involving "medical" marijuana, according to Burke.
Police also have responded to, or investigated, other criminal cases directly related to cultivation, such as robberies, thefts and physical assaults.
When state voters approved medical marijuana use in 1996, it allowed for the cultivation and use of medical marijuana, but didn't set standards. Subsequently, state law spelled out that qualified patients or primary caregivers could possess up to eight ounces of dried marijuana and maintain no more than six mature, or 12 immature plants per patient.
But cities and counties also are allowed to enact their own statutes to exceed state limits. Sebastopol is the only city in Sonoma County to do so. In 2010, the City Council approved a law that allows patients and caregivers to grow up to 30 plants in gardens that can cover as much as 100 square feet. They can also possess up to three pounds of processed marijuana at the garden site.
In unincorporated Sonoma County, the guidelines are virtually identical to Sebastopol's.
Burke said he came up with the dozen mature plant limit as a balance "between regulating what we consider a hazardous activity and patients' ability to grow the medical marijuana they may need."