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Saratoga latest California city seeking to ban outdoor marijuana cultivation

The Saratoga City Council will consider adopting an ordinance June 7 to ban outdoor cannabis cultivation within city limits, regulate indoor cultivation for personal use and prohibit commercial marijuana activity.

The ordinance would extend an interim one that prohibits the outdoor cultivation of marijuana throughout the city. Adopted Nov. 2, that ordinance would have remained in effect for only 45 days, so city staff recommended extending it to Oct. 22, 2018. The recommendation was adopted Dec. 7.

During the 2016 election, voters across California approved Proposition 64, legalizing recreational marijuana use beginning in 2018. Prop. 64 allows cultivation of up to six plants for personal use indoors and outdoors, but also allows cities to “reasonably regulate” cannabis use and cultivation within their city limits. Many cities in California have adopted urgency ordinances, including Cupertino, Campbell, Palo Alto, Foster City, Hayward, Martinez and Santa Rosa.

Saratoga cited risks to public safety, health and welfare associated with commercial and outdoor cannabis cultivation as reasons for banning it. These risks include crimes within the city, increased youth exposure to and use of cannabis, increased risks of car accidents and potential odor.

“The ordinance, which will prohibit commercial sales and outdoor cultivation of marijuana, can help reduce risks of criminal activities and environmental hazards,” said Saratoga Mayor Emily Lo in an email. “This ordinance would help eliminate any nuisances associated with the legalization of recreational marijuana, which California voters approved during the last election in November. Our ordinance acts in the interest of protecting public safety in our community.”

The council’s decision to place this ordinance on the consent calendar for adoption at the next council meeting was met with resistance from Saratoga residents who described outdoor growing as cheaper and more efficient than indoor growing, which requires lights and electricity, ventilation and often, food additives.

NORML, an organization that advocates for legalization of adult marijuana use and for consumers to have access to safe and affordable marijuana, argued that outdoor growing hazards have been greatly exaggerated.

“Odor nuisances can be a problem, and we agree that it’s appropriate to abate them in the event of complaints,” said Dale Gieringer, who holds a doctorate in engineering from Stanford and leads NORML’s California branch. “As for the threat of theft, the same concerns (apply to) any property left outdoors, including cars, garden art.

“Outdoor growing saves energy,” Gieringer added. “We see no reason that small outdoor gardens shouldn’t be permitted, so long as they aren’t in public view or stinking up the neighborhood.”

The city code currently prohibits medical marijuana dispensaries in all zoning districts. It defines a dispensary as “any facility, building, structure, or establishment where a primary caregiver or a collective or cooperative group of qualified patients, persons with identification cards and/or primary caregivers makes available, sells, transmits, gives, allocates, administers, delivers, processes or otherwise provides marijuana to or cultivates marijuana for more than two qualified patients, persons with identification cards, or primary caregivers.”

The city’s dispensary ban does not specifically prohibit outdoor cannabis cultivation, nor does it clearly apply to individuals who are authorized to cultivate medical marijuana. City code and the principles of permissive zoning state that any land being used to cultivate cannabis without a permit is prohibited, and the city doesn’t issue permits due to the code. Therefore, since cannabis cultivation is not permitted under Saratoga’s current zoning codes, it is the city staff’s opinion that it is prohibited.

City staff stated that it is possible that Prop. 64 may be interpreted to pre-empt marijuana cultivation bans based solely on permissive zoning. To address this, Saratoga and other cities that are limiting marijuana cultivation are tailoring their ordinances to all zoning areas.

The ordinance is on the consent calendar for the June 7 city council meeting, set for 7 p.m. in the Saratoga Civic Theater. Consent calendar items are acted on in one motion, unless the mayor or city council members remove an item. Members of the public may speak on items from the consent calendar or request to have any item removed from the list for further discussion. Speakers are limited to three minutes.