Healdsburg to form task force on medical marijuana cultivation

Healdsburg City Council members Monday opted to form a task force to study the controversial question of medical marijuana cultivation, including whether the fragrant plants should be allowed outdoors, or confined inside.

In an attempt to balance the need of medical marijuana patients versus the periodic complaints over the skunk-like aroma the plants can produce — as well as the potential for attracting crime and violence — the council agreed to study the issue further.

"I have friends who use medical marijuana for different ailments. I know they need it," said Mayor Susan Jones. "I would feel better knowing we spent time talking to users and supporters and knowing they had input into the process."

"We need to hear from our community," said Councilman Gary Plass in agreeing to establish a committee to look at cultivation guidelines. The seven-member group, composed of two council members, two planning commissioners and three community members would likely come back with recommendations in the fall.

In response to ongoing complaints from residents about marijuana plants in their neighborhoods, Police Chief Kevin Burke had proposed guidelines to better regulate cultivation.

He said Healdsburg residents tend to be tolerant, but many have strong opinions about backyard grows.

"They don't want to see it. They don't want to smell it. They don't want it next door to their home," Burke said.

With no public comment, the Planning Commission last month unanimously recommended that the City Council approve the new guidelines, which would have allowed patients to grow up to 12 mature plants and 24 immature ones — twice what state law stipulates.

But Burke noted the state Supreme Court also allowed medical marijuana patients to grow more plants if a doctor recommends it.

The Healdsburg ordinance also would have limited cultivation to indoors and not within 300 feet of schools, churches, hospitals, child care and youth centers.

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