Santa Rosa rejects ban on outdoor marijuana gardens for personal use

Santa Rosa for the third time backed off an effort to ban outdoor cannabis growing for personal use in the city.|

When it comes to banning cultivation of marijuana for personal use, it turns out Santa Rosa was just blowing smoke.

The City Council on Tuesday soundly rejected an immediate temporary ban on growing pot outdoors for personal use as council members questioned whether enough safety or nuisance issues existed to warrant emergency restrictions on pot gardens in the city.

Mayor Chris Coursey said he was concerned about burdening a code enforcement staff that would be unlikely to prioritize any odor or other nuisance complaints stemming from a proliferation of backyard grows.

“I don’t want to tell the community that cannabis growing in your yard is illegal and then not be able to enforce it when we get calls,” Coursey said.

It was the third time the council considered the measure in as many months, shelving it two previous times to get more public input or to wait for the full council to be present.

The city originally proposed the immediate ban because it didn’t want cannabis cultivators to get too invested in their crops only to have them become illegal later in the year if the city passes comprehensive rules banning outdoor growing, which remains a possibility.

But the delay stretched into growing season, making it harder for city staff to press for an urgency ordinance, which requires approval from five of the seven members and would have taken effect immediately.

“We missed our window to do it this year,” Councilman Chris Rogers said. He added that he was open to outdoor growing restrictions either next year or in the comprehensive rules.

The council voted 5-2 to reject the ban. It also rejected on a 5-2 vote a compromise proposal floated by Councilwoman Julie Combs to limit outdoor plants to two per household.

It did however, vote 7-0 to ban outdoor commercial cultivation in the city.

The move was largely symbolic because commercial operations already are limited to industrial areas. Outdoors operations in such areas would never get permits, and no one is pursuing such plans, David Guhin, the city’s director of Planning and Economic Development noted.

The wider ban was viewed as necessary out of a concern that the passage last year of Proposition 64 legalizing adult recreational use of marijuana would cause pot patches to sprout up all over the city.

The new state law allows adults to possess six mature plants or their equivalent product for recreational use, but allows local jurisdictions to ban outdoor growing. Local restrictions on indoor growing, including greenhouses that are “secure and enclosed,” are not allowed.

Existing state medical cannabis rules allow patients to grow up to 100 square feet worth of plants, and some jurisdictions have restricted outdoor growing over smell and safety concerns.

John Sawyer and Ernesto Olivares both supported the outdoor growing ban. At risk, Sawyer said, is “a person’s peaceful enjoyment of their home.”

Olivares, a retired police lieutenant running for county sheriff, noted his concern about the message a lenient stance on marijuana sends to kids. Pot use among teens in states like Colorado that have legalized it have soared, he said. He said he worried about “some knucklehead kid” trying to steal cannabis from someone who seeks to defend their crop and “some tragedy may occur here in our community and I don’t want to be a part of that.”

But most other council members were either concerned the city would lose future state funding should they ban outdoor growing, didn’t want to deny patients an inexpensive way to access their medicine, or just didn’t see the rush.

“I don’t want us to do what’s quick, I want us to do what’s right.” Rogers said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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