Marijuana advocates challenge Clearlake cultivation ban

Marijuana advocates have launched a legal challenge to Clearlake’s ban on cannabis cultivation.

“The Clearlake ordinance is not only extremely cruel, but it is also illegal under California law,” which legalized pot for medical use, attorney Joe Elford said.

The lawsuit is backed by Cal NORML - National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Elford said he filed the suit Thursday afternoon on behalf of all the city’s medical marijuana patients.

The named plaintiffs include former City Councilwoman Jeri Spittler and her husband. Spittler suffers from painful fibromyalgia and cannot take the usual prescribed medication, Elford said. Her husband is recovering from treatments for stage 4 throat and neck cancer. Spittler was a councilwoman for four years before running unsuccessfully for county supervisor last year. The third named plaintiff is a woman who uses marijuana to treat symptoms remaining from an aneurysm she suffered five years ago, Elford said.

Clearlake officials had been threatened with litigation before they adopted the ordinance in February, so they were not particularly surprised by the lawsuit.

“We kind of anticipated something like that,” said Mayor Denise Loustalot. She said she cannot comment on the lawsuit because she’s not seen it nor been notified it has been filed.

The ordinance is scheduled to take effect at the end of the month unless Elford succeeds in obtaining an injunction to halt its implementation while the case wends its way through the legal system.

Three other California counties and cities have ordinances banning cannabis cultivation, the city of Live Oak in Sutter County and the city and county of Fresno. Other counties and cities have taken steps to control marijuana growing, including requiring it be grown only inside secured structures with ventilation systems.

The Clearlake council majority said they were forced by scofflaws to adopt a ban. The city had allowed up to six plants in residential neighborhoods but people were growing many more, up to 100, generating complaints about the plants’ skunky smell and fears of associated crime, officials said.

Spittler said she, too, was appalled by the excessive cultivation but said there are alternatives to a ban. They include adding enforcement tools to the previous ordinance, which reportedly lacked teeth.

“The Police Department did no enforcement. Now it’s completely out of control, and they want to persecute everyone,” Spittler said.

Clearlake officials have said their ban would not prevent people from obtaining medical marijuana because they can purchase it from pot dispensaries. But marijuana advocates contend purchasing cannabis can be too expensive for some patients, effectively blocking their access to medication.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or On Twitter @MendoReporter.

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