John Bekas suffers from epilepsy. His hip, shattered in a car crash 10 years ago, still hurts.
The 40-year-old warehouse worker finds that cannabis gives him relief from the symptoms of both chronic conditions.
For the past two years, Bekas and his wife have grown marijuana in the backyard of their single-family home in southwest Santa Rosa, harvesting enough sun-grown plants to inexpensively supply their needs nearly year-round. Now Santa Rosa, like other communities, is considering banning all outdoor growing of all cannabis — medical or recreational. Bekas doesn’t think that’s fair.
“They are basically forcing people to either go to a cannabis club or have nothing,” Bekas said. “But cannabis clubs will bankrupt you.”
Bekas is one of many Santa Rosa residents who are confounded by the city’s plan to ban outdoor cultivation of cannabis after effectively allowing it for decades. He’s got his garden plot ready, foot-tall seedlings prepped to plant into their GeoPots, but now he doesn’t know what to do.
“We have no idea what’s happening this season,” Bekas said.
One month after shelving the proposal to get more public input, Santa Rosa is once again poised to enact an emergency ban on outdoor growing of cannabis. The prohibition would go into place immediately if passed Tuesday by the City Council.
Concerned that odor complaints and cannabis- related crime will only increase in the wake of the passage of Proposition 64, the city is planning to incorporate an outdoor growing ban into its comprehensive set of cannabis regulations slated to go into effect later this year.
But the city didn’t want local backyard growers to get too invested in pot gardens that might become illegal before they reach maturity.
“We have an obligation to let them know that we’re not jumping on that bus right now,” Councilman John Sawyer said.
Hence the haste to pass a ban that goes into effect immediately. Normally, new local laws go into effect 30 days after the second reading by the council. An “urgency ordinance” goes into effect upon passage and lasts 45 days. Such a move requires five votes of the seven-member council instead of the typical four-vote majority.
The City Council was set to consider the temporary ban last month, but it was postponed to get additional public comment after a number of residents said they had little warning. A special meeting of the city’s cannabis subcommittee in mid-April drew about 50 members of the public. The three-member committee, focusing on concerns about odors and public safety, agreed to move forward with the ban anyway.
State laws — from Proposition 215 approving medical use more than two decades ago to Proposition 64 legalizing recreational use in November — grant people the right to possess and grow cannabis, generally speaking up to 100 square feet for qualified patients and up to six plants for adult recreational use.
But those laws also grant local governments the right to regulate land uses and enforce nuisance laws. The result is a dizzying patchwork of state and local regulations that can make it challenging for individuals to know just what rules apply to their specific properties.
“This is something that every jurisdiction is struggling with right now,” said Councilman Chris Rogers, a member of the subcommittee.
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