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Medicinal pot growers for Ceres?
Council open to permitting commercial grows, restricting indoor pot growth for recreational use
Prop. 64 allows growing of up to six marijuana plants indoors for private use. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

After hearing one Ceres father describe how a specific strain of marijuana gives quality of life to his epileptic son, the Ceres City Council showed willingness Monday evening to consider allowing a limited number of commercial pot growers in the city.

Such uses would be permitted in certain industrial areas under a tight set of regulations to address odor and security.

The discussion about medicinal marijuana came after an hour-long talk about the city setting up regulations, through a permitting process, for those who wish to grow recreational use pot in their own home after passage of Proposition 64 by California voters in November.

Last December the council determined it won't allow any outdoor growing of marijuana within the Ceres city limits.

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. Cities may restrict growing of pot to indoors only and 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 City Manager Toby Wells.

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 occer.

The state's lax attitude toward cannabis is still in direct conflict with federal law which treats it like a narcotic.

Cities are scrambling to come up with what the proposition calls "reasonable restrictions" in light of 64's passage. Some cities have developed requirements for ventilation, indoor lighting, professional plans, security, and shielding from public view. Wells said some cities are limiting the personal-use grow room between 100 and 400 square feet. Cities can also set restrictions on how large a plant may grow.

City Manager Toby Wells offered city regulations designed in Waterford and Indian Wells as a guide. Waterford charges a $361 for recreational marijuana growing permits but the Ceres council has yet to determine what it will charge. Some on the council felt that the permit 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.

Councilman Ken Lane said he worries that setting the permit cost too high would cause growers to go underground.

Ceres Fire Department Engineer Joe Spani urged the council to keep in mind regulations, saying firefighters and paramedics will be exposed to more dangers such as fires, elevated levels of carbon dioxide and the use of toxic chemicals.

"Marijuana legalization has been shown to have impact on EMS response," said Spani. ‘Recent evidence collected with the experience of Colorado identifies several, including toxicity-related traumatic injuries, including traffic collisions resulting from altered perception of motor control ... pediatric accidental ingestion and increases in overdoses."

Members of the public had input about recreational pot growing.

Code enforcement officer Paula Redfern suggested that the city only allow growing in a lockable garage, or in an accessory structure equipped with firewalls. She also asked the council to consider the health of code enforcers on inspections to prevent exposure to spores and odors.

"As code enforcement officers, our concerns are health, the mold in homes," said Redfern. She added blocked off points of egress, and concerns about electrical overloads that lead to fires.

Former council candidate Gene Yeakley suggested that most of the pot being grown in Ceres already is being sold for profit.

Saying break-ins will increase, Yeakley asked the council "make it as hard as you can get" for growers; but Wells noted as written the law calls for "reasonable restrictions."

"I don't see (Code Enforcement Officer) Frank Alvarez going door-to-door with no bulletproof vest by himself making inspections," said Yeakley. "It's too damned dangerous. We live in a society that's crazy. If you haven't noticed Ceres, it's crazy. You have to look not too far and see stuff going on."

Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra said his greatest concern is that neighbors don't have to smell odors coming from indoor pot growing.

Under the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA), the state will be developing a permitting process for such operations. Licenses will not be granted for cities that ban them, however.

Former Central Valley High coach Mike Reynolds impassioned the council to make allowances for a limited amount of manufacturing of pot for medicinal purposes. His son, Kase was diagnosed with chromosome 5q14.3 deletion syndrome, a neurocognitive disorder characterized by epilepsy and intellectual disability, at the age of four months. He described himself as a church-going conservative who believes that "cannabis was 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 cannabis administration.

"He has a chance to live without tremendous pain, being able to sleep, being able to touch him without screaming," said Reynolds. "As aa parent you just want the best for your kid."

Reynolds said he can get cannabis but he has to travel to areas like Oakland, Monterey and Southern California get it.

"I'd rather be home. I want to stay in Ceres," said Reynolds, who urged the council to "morally and ethically" consider a pilot program where cannabis is grown and distributed to those in medical need.

Wells suggested 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."