July is ending and autumn is just around the corner. As our days begin to shorten, the number of marijuana-related complaints begins to increase. This year is no exception.
At the Ukiah Police Department (UPD), we’ve already started receiving a large number of marijuana-related calls. Some people report relatively minor concerns, while others dial 9-1-1 to report emergencies.
Most calls are related to somebody upset over growing activities they believe are illegal, theft of marijuana, or issues surrounding the increased transient population that comes to our community around “harvest” time.
As a police chief, I am most concerned with the emergency calls related to violent acts, burglaries, and home invasion robberies that occur every year as a result of both legal and illegal marijuana cultivation and possession.
This year, like so many others, our department has had to deal with several people being robbed at gunpoint, either for their marijuana or for money associated with marijuana.
These violent acts not only put people who grow and possess marijuana at a risk, they also threaten innocent community members and our law enforcement officers who respond to these violent, marijuana-related crimes while they’re in progress.
As we struggle locally with marijuana issues and the unfortunate violence that results from marijuana’s black market value, our nation’s leaders continue to discuss possible solutions, ranging from complete prohibition to legalization. Until this debate is decided on a national level, confusion about marijuana laws will continue.
Growing or possessing marijuana remains against federal law, but public and political debates–even at the federal level–acknowledge that the issue may be better addressed by the states.
In California, efforts have been 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.” These 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.
Obviously, neither the sheriff’s office nor the police department has the resources to address every marijuana-related complaint. At the UPD, we classify marijuana complaints into two categories: minor and major violations.
For 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. Then, if appropriate, the officer will 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 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 are 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 hope everyone can agree that we must do all we can to make Ukiah a safe community.
Please, if it has been determined that you suffer from a condition that can benefit from the use of medicinal marijuana, 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 criminal purposes, remember that you are choosing to associate 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.
As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have any suggestions or comments about how we can improve, please feel free to call me, complete our online survey, or leave a crime tip on our website: www.ukiahpolice.com.