CONCORD -- City Council took steps Tuesday to ban the cultivation of medical marijuana outdoors after hearing impassioned pleas from residents on each side of the issue.
Council members directed City Attorney Mark Coon to draft an ordinance modeled after one in Moraga that, if ultimately approved, would force medical marijuana patients and caregivers to move their plants indoors or out of town.
"It is a balance," Councilman Ron Leone said. "We have to be considerate of our neighbors because your rights end at the tip of my nose and in this case literally."
All five council members said they supported the Moraga model, an ordinance that simply bans cultivation outdoors and is not as restrictive as other city ordinances. Coon and police Chief Guy Swanger each recommended the Moraga model, which officials said has worked since the town approved it in 2011.
The state allows qualified patients and caregivers to use and cultivate marijuana for medicinal purposes under laws passed by voters in 1996 and the state legislature in 2004. The laws do not guarantee the right to grow medical marijuana outdoors, Coon told the council.
The issue of outdoor medical marijuana operations was first brought to the council by Dana Estates residents in October, who complained about a neighborhood house they said smelled strongly of a "skunk" odor and threatened the safety of the neighborhood.
In public comment at Tuesday's meeting, residents
Supporters of the ban told the council they are afraid to let their children play outside. One woman said the pungent smell of a crop near her home triggers asthma attacks.
"I'm 100 percent against the cultivation of marijuana in a residential area," said Evelyn Freitas, who first brought the issue to the city's attention in October. "It has no place to be there. We are not breaking any laws if we ask them to bring it inside."
But medical marijuana patients and caregivers said moving their operations inside makes it more costly, entices thieves to enter their home and increases the risk of a structure fire because of the indoor lighting needed to grow the plants.
"Not only will PG&E be taking off your arm and your leg to pay for it, it's going to start a fire," one woman told council.
Bambi Yeley, a caregiver to her mother and father for more than a decade, said medical marijuana eased their slow and painful deaths.
"If I want to grow something in my backyard ... how dare you tell me I can't do it. It kept my parents alive. My dad would not have eaten for a year if he hadn't gotten high," she said.
Any ban requires further review by the Planning Commission before it comes back to City Council for approval.
"There comes a point when we have to come together and come up with a way that is right by everyone without taking away the rights of anyone," Vice Mayor Tim Grayson said.
David DeBolt covers Concord and Clayton. Contact him at 925-943-8048. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.