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Medicinal cannabis policy studied
Planners updated on city plans to allow manufacturing facility
A medicinal marijuana business like this one may be allowed if the City Council decides on a permitting process by this summer. Mike Reynolds is urging the action to help people like his son who is relieved by cannabinoids. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Members of the Ceres Planning Commission on Monday evening got their first spiel about plans of a local man who wants to establish a medicinal marijuana manufacturing business in a southwest Ceres business park.

The city currently does not allow such a business in Ceres but is considering changing the zoning ordinance to allow such an operation under a developer agreement arrangement.

Members of the Ceres City Council decided last month to consider the request after hearing former Central Valley High coach Mike Reynolds impassion them to allow a limited amount of manufacturing of pot for medicinal purposes. At the age of four months, Reynolds' son, Kase was diagnosed with chromosome 5q14.3 deletion syndrome, a neurocognitive disorder characterized by epilepsy and intellectual disability. Describing himself as a church-going conservative, Reynolds said he believes that cannabis is "the only thing that gave my son quality of life." He said Kase went from 1,000 seizures a day to five to 10 because of cannabinoids extracted from marijuana. Reynolds told the council that Kase "has a chance to live without tremendous pain, being able to sleep, being able to touch him without screaming. As a parent you just want the best for your kid."

Reynolds said he can buy cannabis but has to travel to areas like Oakland, Monterey and Southern California to get it. He said he would rather start a business in Ceres and urged the council to "morally and ethically" consider a pilot program where cannabis is grown and distributed to those in medical need. He has proposed starting Kase Manufacturing at 4111 Brew Master Drive.

In March City Manager Toby Wells suggested that a limited number of small indoor commercial growing operations - Reynolds suggested 2,000 square feet or less - may be worth considering. Much study is needed, he cautioned, saying "this is a big issue and it's complex and it's definitely not for the faint of heart."

Anything under 10,000 square feet is considered a small grow.

Wells recommended against any medical dispensaries in Ceres, saying "there's a lot of downside in terms of the public perception."

The commission heard Wells deliver his report before continuing the matter to a public hearing set for Monday, May 1.

Simultaneously, the city is studying the best way to regulate the growing of recreational marijuana in the wake of passage of Proposition 64 (the Adult Use of Marijuana Act) by California voters in November. Prop. 64 adds sections to the California Health and Safety Code to permit adults 21 and older to possess, transport, or give away up to one ounce of marijuana and up to eight grams of concentrated cannabis. Users who do not wish to buy pot at special marijuana stores will be able to possess, cultivate, and harvest up to six marijuana plants inside the home - or outside as long as the public cannot see it while standing outside of a fence.

Last December the council determined it won't allow any outdoor growing of marijuana within the Ceres city limits. However, a twist to AUMA considers an outdoor greenhouse is considered part of a structure as long as it's not in public view. Cities may restrict growing of pot to indoors only and only through a special permit. Cities cannot ban pot growing inside of a single-family residence under Prop. 64, but they can place "reasonable" regulations on it, said Wells. He said the term "reasonable" is nebulous and may have to be ultimately defined by the courts.

Cities have until Jan. 1, 2018 to have regulations in place.

Prop. 64 does not make any provisions for pot growing inside of apartment units. Renters of homes must have notarized written permission from the property owner before a grow can occur.

The state's lax attitude toward cannabis is still in direct conflict with federal law which treats it like a narcotic. The U.S. Attorney General's office has decided to focus on several issues in states that have voted to allow recreational pot. Wells said those issues include protection of minors, preventing revenue from going into criminal enterprises, preventing diversion across state lines to states where pot is illegal, forbidding marijuana as a cover for other illegal drugs and activities and prevent drugged driving. The Trump Administration has signaled it may strengthen federal restrictions.

Cities are scrambling to come up with what the proposition calls "reasonable restrictions." Some cities have developed standards for ventilation, indoor lighting, professional plans, security measures, and shielding grows away from public view. Wells said some cities are limiting the personal-use grow room between 100 and 400 square feet. Cities may also set restrictions on how large a plant may be allowed to grow.

Wells said the city could model its regulations after ones adopted in Waterford and Indian Wells. Waterford charges $361 for a recreational marijuana growing permit but the Ceres council has yet to determine what its charge will be. Some on the council believe that the permit fee should cover the cost of sending a police officer along on inspections made the building inspector and code enforcement officer. Permits mean the city has a right to enter a property for inspections, said Wells.

Commissioners were informed that the council is not interested in allowing any recreational marijuana dispensaries in Ceres.

The actual discussion of recreational marijuana will not be occurring until several months, said Wells.

Monday's discussion prompted Hiram Cueto of Service Road to inquire if the city would be allowing cannabis testing facilities. Cueto said he owns an existing environmental testing laboratory. Wells explained that the city has not directed him to explore that area but did not rule it out in the future.

After the meeting, Community Development Director Tom Westbrook said he didn't think a testing facility was out of the question but said "it's just not part of the direction they've given us."