MARTINEZ -- Following complaints about medical marijuana growing in backyards, Martinez may restrict the number of outdoor plants to six per property.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to review the proposal at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 525 Henrietta St. The commissioners will then make a recommendation to the City Council.

Last year, Martinez police received complaints about a strong marijuana smell emanating from the backyard of a house in the Brittany Hills subdivision. An investigation revealed that the plants are legal because the resident has a medical cannabis card and is a caregiver for five other patients, according to police. Large numbers of marijuana plants also are growing in the yards of two other properties, police Chief Gary Peterson said.

The theft of plants from one of the houses seems to validate residents' concerns that medical marijuana grows will attract crime.

"While we try to respect (growers') rights under California law and the rights of their neighbors to have quiet enjoyment of their properties without the stench of growing marijuana, it's a balancing act," Peterson said. "We don't want marijuana farms in Martinez."

In 1996, California voters approved the Compassionate Use Act, commonly known as Proposition 15, which legalized the use and cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes. With a doctor's recommendation, patients can have six mature pot plants or 12 immature plants for their personal use.


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The law also allows patients or primary caregivers to form nonprofit collectives and grow marijuana together. However, the law doesn't preclude local governments from regulating where patients can grow it.

"When you have 70, 80, 90 plants, while it may be legal, it gives the appearance of a commercial grow," Peterson said. "So we are trying to respect the rights of legitimate patients while at the same time dealing with neighborhood concerns."

Many communities, including Concord, prohibit outdoor marijuana cultivation. Under that city's ordinance, marijuana plants growing indoors can't be visible from any public place, such as a sidewalk. In 2011, Moraga extended its ban on medical marijuana dispensaries to include prohibiting outdoor cultivation, after residents complained about plants growing in a neighbor's backyard.

"We favor outdoor cultivation because it's much more energy-efficient," said Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

"We realize when you're in an urban or semiurban environment like Martinez, it's not really an agricultural area, and some limits on production may be warranted," he added.

Lisa P. White covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.

If you go
The Martinez Planning Commission is scheduled to review a proposal to limit the number of marijuana plants someone can grow outdoors at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 525 Henrietta St., Martinez.