MARTINEZ -- The City Council unanimously voted to ban outdoor marijuana cultivation, reversing its narrowly approved -- and unpopular -- March decision to allow individuals to grow six plants outdoors for medical purposes.
Mayor Rob Schroder and council members Mike Menesini and AnaMarie Avila Farias said they voted for the March ordinance because it was better than nothing, and that a complete ban could potentially expose the city to lawsuits.
Everything changed after the California Supreme Court on March 27 sustained an appellate court ruling upholding the right of local governments to completely ban medical marijuana cultivation.
"That makes all the difference. I am now in favor of a total ban," Schroder said when he learned of the decision the next day.
Neighborhood complaints about large-scale marijuana grows in Martinez prompted both council actions.
Most local growers had California medical marijuana cards legalizing the plants, and police said they could not enforce federal law. Marijuana is federally illegal and doctors are not allowed to prescribe it, but the state of California allows six plants per patient for medical purposes with a prescription.
A local zoning ordinance limiting the number of plants would have given police the ability to control big grows without the perceived danger of lawsuits against the city that could result from a complete ban.
The council chamber was again packed for the April 2 meeting, primarily with residents opposed to the growth ordinance when it came up for a required second vote.
Farias opened the marijuana topic by saying that the city only had three incidents violating state Proposition 215 (legalized medical marijuana growth).
"In light of the changes that have happened at the court ... the city is in a better place to ban marijuana," she said.
After applause from the audience lapsed, Menesini agreed with the ban, explaining how Tom McGreerty and Richard Verrilli influenced his change of mind about the outdoor grows at the last Public Safety Subcommittee meeting.
Three-quarters of the audience speakers expressed compassion, but supported the ban.
The predominant position was that the imposition on the many would outweigh the hardship on a few.
With the approaching growth season in mind, the city staff was instructed to eliminate permission for outdoor growth from the existing ordinance and have it ready for a vote by the April 16 meeting.
Redrafting a new ordinance would require additional public notices and review by the Planning Commission.
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