Friday, October 31, 2008

Gridley gets inventive against pot gardens

By ROGER H. AYLWORTH - Staff Writer
Article Launched: 10/31/2008 12:00:00 AM PDT

GRIDLEY — An innovative city zoning ordinance is using civil penalties to effectively block outdoor pot gardens here.

The ordinance, which was passed in June, declares the pungent odor of growing pot a public nuisance.

That means it's illegal for people covered by Proposition 215 to grow pot outside in Gridley, and even puts rules and limits on how the plants can be cultivated indoors.

Gridley Police Chief Gary D. Keeler said the new rules are meant to protect the rights of medicinal marijuana users, while protecting others from the associated ills.

He said the ordinance, which is administered by the city's code enforcement officers and not his department, was spurred by citizen complaints.

Keeler said local citizens understood that under Proposition 215, people with a doctor's recommendation have a right to grow marijuana.

"Not too many people had issues with that; at least they didn't display that concern. It was the smell and the sight, and the blight, and the nuisance to the neighborhood" that got the public's interest, according to the chief.

The core of the legal issue is the smell of the growing plants.

"Marijuana plants, as they begin to flower and for a period of two months or more during the growing season — August through October for outdoor cultivation — produce an extremely strong odor, offensive to many people and detectable far beyond property boundaries," states a Gridley City Council resolution.

"There is actually one (marijuana variety) called 'skunk weed.' It is particularly odorous. It puts out a very, very foul odor," said the chief.

The ordinance prohibits outside growing on that basis. Even indoor grows have to meet specific rules for the structure and the electrical wiring for lighting and ventilation. Indoor growers are also limited to no more than 12 mature plants.

The chief said there was a single residence with a significant outdoor pot patch that really got the ordinance on the books.

He said his department got numerous complaints about the specific spot, but there was nothing police could do about it.

After the ordinance — which carries the potential of a $500-a-day civil fine for violators — was passed, the problem growers "moved on."

As of the end of October, no one had been cited under the ordinance.

Keeler said there was another issue that made finding a way to curb outdoor gardens necessary — armed garden raids.

In recent weeks local legal pot gardens have been targeted by robbers and in at least a couple of situations those raids have led to gunfire.

The chief said having a garden of mature plants in public view was an attractive invitation to potential pot thieves.

"The best analogy I can give it is if you had a bunch of firearms or valuables and you stuck them up in your window, it's like a neon light. 'Come steal me!'" explained the chief.

Between seeing the plants and being able to find them by smell in the dark, outside gardens create a "clear and present danger to the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, and safety of the community," states the Gridley City Council resolution authorizing the ordinance.

While Gridley is the first jurisdiction in the county to enact such an ordinance, Keeler said both the cities of Biggs and Oroville are considering similar measures.

Staff writer Roger H. Aylworth can be reached at 896-7762, or

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