MARTINEZ -- Approval of an ordinance regulating marijuana growth drew emotional testimony and a large crowd at its first public presentation.
The City Council, in a 3-2 vote and over the objections of all but one speaker, approved an amendment allowing individual residents to grow six backyard marijuana plants for personal medical use.
Two public hearings are required for final approval. The next meeting is scheduled April 2.
Martinez and other California cities are in a peculiar situation because federal law forbids cannabis production and state law allows it. Municipal governments may write local ordinances banning or controlling marijuana, but there is a lawsuit pending in appeals court against one city with a ban, according to the presentation at the March 19 council meeting.
Martinez regulated marijuana dispensaries in 2000, after the 1996 state passage of proposition 215 allowed marijuana for medical use.
"We don't have any (dispensaries)," Mayor Rob Schroder said. "I just wish (medical marijuana) would be regulated like any other pharmaceutical."
With no federal enforcement, resident complaints and the report of a marijuana plant theft, council members AnaMarie Avila Farias and Mike Menesini agreed to form a committee to look into a way to regulate pot growth in the city. They subsequently recommended -- and voted for -- the six-plant allowance rule.
The ordinance amendment was reviewed by the police department and passed by the Planning Commission in a 3-2 split vote. There were questions about how it would be enforced as jokes about police counting plants echoed from the back of the room at the council meeting.
Schroder claimed the six-plant amendment is better than nothing because some people have been growing hundreds of plants.
"I don't want this drive this inside (of houses)," he said.
Councilman Mark Ross acknowledged the medicinal value of cannabis, but favors a ban.
He cited "troubles" he has had managing properties with tenants who had marijuana, whether inside or outside of the rental houses.
"This does not solve a problem," Ross said.
Schroder voted yes, and was compelled to pound the gavel and demand quiet in the council chamber after the Farias "yes" vote clinched approval of the amendment.
Farias suggested the council can ask for quarterly police reviews and reassess their decision after they see how it works.
Almost all of the public comments backed a ban on marijuana propagation.
A succession of speakers acknowledged compassion for pain sufferers, but claimed the negative impacts on the city's other 36,000 people outweigh the benefits for a few.
"Medical marijuana should be regulated like other pharmaceuticals."
"The stuff that is grown in the backyard is not medical (grade) marijuana."
Speakers worried about violence and crime because the street value, quoted as $2,500 to $6,000 per plant, creates an attractive nuisance: "It's like leaving your door unlocked or your garage door open." "It's like a vehicle break-in when valuables are left in view."
There was attentive silence during Carol Jensen's emotional account of her brother's death during a marijuana burglary.
"My brother was growing one marijuana plant ... someone broke in and shot him. He is dead," she said.
Menesini said that as a former police officer, public defender and assistant district attorney that he had "not seen those kinds of problems with a few plants."
"We wanted to address industrial growth," he said.
Concerned resident Gay Gerlack said backyard crops are unnecessary, dangerous, diminish property values and run counter to all of the efforts to build the city's reputation as a visitor destination.
A resident who grows "cannabinoids" in his yard explained that after years of trying pharmaceutical medications for pain without relief, marijuana helped him so much that he could be a productive citizen, go back to work and be a better father.
After expressing her compassion for people on both sides of the issue, Councilwoman Lara De Laney agreed with Ross and voted no.
Reach Dana Guzzetti about Martinez news at email@example.com or call 925-202-9292.