Marijuana Hot Topic
It’s autumn again and the Ukiah Police Department has started to receive a large number of calls related to marijuana. Some callers report relatively minor concerns, but others make 9-1-1 emergency calls. These are usually related to somebody upset over growing activities they believe are illegal, theft of marijuana, and issues surrounding the increased transient population that comes to our community around "harvest" time.
As police chief, what most concerns me are the emergency calls related to violent acts, burglaries and home invasion robberies, which occur every year as a result of both legal and illegal marijuana cultivation and possession. These violent acts not only put people who grow and possess marijuana at a greater risk, they put neighbors and neighborhoods – as well as our officers who respond to in-progress violent acts – at a greater risk.
As we struggle locally with marijuana issues and the violence that unfortunately results from the black market value of marijuana, our nation’s leaders continue to discuss possible solutions, ranging from complete prohibition to legalization. Growing or possessing marijuana remains against federal law, but public and political debates even at the presidential level acknowledge that the issue may be better addressed at the state level.
In California, efforts have been many undertaken to help distinguish legal medical marijuana from illegal commercial enterprises that seek to hide behind the compassionate aspects of our progressive marijuana laws. In August 2008, then-Attorney General Jerry Brown published "Guidelines for the Security and Non-diversion of Marijuana Grown for Medical Use," which are the guidelines currently followed by the Mendocino County District Attorney. While the state legislature has also attempted to place a ceiling on how much marijuana a patient could possess or grow at any given time, this effort was ultimately determined to be unconstitutional. Nevertheless, the former legislated guidelines, which sanctioned no more than six mature marijuana plants, 12 immature plants, or eight ounces of processed marijuana per patient, still provide some guidance and act as a "safe harbor" from arrest for those with a valid recommendation. To summarize, current state law requires a medical marijuana patient to have a doctor’s recommendation and possess only that amount of marijuana "reasonably related" to the medical condition for which the marijuana is being recommended.
The law also states that marijuana cannot be smoked where smoking is prohibited, or within a 1000 feet of a school, recreation center, or youth center. Smoking marijuana is also prohibited in a moving car or boat.
Each city or county may adopt regulations defining what amount of marijuana a medical patient may possess or cultivate.
In Ukiah, the City Council adopted a series of ordinances in 2007 to define what is allowable within the city limits. These ordinances allow qualified medical patients to start with no more than 24 immature plants which then must be winnowed down once sexing is possible to no more than 12 mature marijuana plants per city parcel, and these plants MUST be grown indoors or within an approved and enclosed outside structure.
If you live outside the Ukiah city limits, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors has set the limit at 25 plants per parcel, along with other limitations.
If you’d like more details on local ordinances and regulations, information can be found by visiting www.ukiahpolice.com or www.mendocinosheriff.com.
Obviously, neither the Sheriff’s Office nor the Ukiah Police Department has the resources to address every marijuana-related complaint. At the Ukiah Police Department, we classify marijuana complaints into two simple categories: minor and major violations.
For possible minor violations – growing a few plants over the limit, or growing a small number of plants outside—responding officers will check to make sure the resident possesses a valid recommendation and then, if one is present, take an educational approach: informing residents about any observed violations and asking for voluntary compliance with our city ordinances and state law. Failure to voluntarily comply may eventually require that the matter to be submitted to the District Attorney for further review and legal action.
For possible major violations -- growing a significant number of plants, (indoors or outdoors) without a valid physician’s recommendation or, worse, with commercial intent, - Ukiah’s police officers will initiate a felony criminal investigation for the purpose of strong enforcement of the law. All of these cases will be submitted to the District Attorney for review and criminal prosecution at the felony level.
Whether you are for or against the legalization of marijuana, I would hope that everyone agrees that we must do all we can to make our Ukiah community a safe community.
Please, if it has been determined that you suffer from a condition that is benefited from the use of medicinal marijuana, please take the time to learn about and follow the rules to stay legal. If you don’t know the rules, ask questions before you inadvertently put yourself, your family, and your neighborhood at risk – legal or otherwise. Get a doctor’s recommendation and stay within Ukiah’s growing limits. Grow your limited number of plants inside, as required, and take steps to be a good neighbor if your neighbors come to you with smell complaints.
If, on the other hand, you choose to grow marijuana for a criminal purpose, remember that you are choosing to deal with other criminals, which, in turn, puts you, you’re neighbors, and our whole community at risk. While I believe in being compassionate, my job is to protect the citizens of Ukiah. My officers and I will continue to do that when it comes to illegal marijuana activities.