Before you grow

What to know about Chico’s pot regulations

Pot growing indoors.

Pot growing indoors.

In Chico, there’s a price that comes with growing pot––$281, to be exact––but so far, nobody’s paying it.

That comes as no surprise to Jessica MacKenzie, of the advocacy group Inland Cannabis Farmers’ Association. People are not willing to go to City Hall, say they are growing cannabis in their homes and ask for a permit, she said.

A case in point: Permits have been available for indoor medical marijuana gardens since 2011, and the city still has no applications on file.

“Nobody is playing your game,” MacKenzie said. “They weren’t playing it before.”

While the city cannot prohibit recreational marijuana use for those 21 and older, granted with the passage of Proposition 64, in November the Chico City Council adopted an ordinance banning commercial activity and restricting personal gardens to indoors, while setting up a permitting scheme. It was a contentious topic that passed 4-3 without much discussion on alternative approaches, with Councilmembers Karl Ory, Ann Schwab and Randall Stone dissenting.

From a code enforcement standpoint, Chico is going to treat marijuana permits like “any other required permit,” city Community Development Director Leo DePaola told the CN&R. He said he thinks people have avoided getting permits because they believe the city has a hidden agenda.

“People think we’re trying to single out people who want to grow their own marijuana,” he said. “We actually want people to grow their own marijuana compliantly.”

So, what do potential growers have to do to get started?

• Submit an application, available online or at City Hall, along with site plans.

• Pass three code enforcement inspections.

• Provide written approval from a landlord.

• Pay a $281 fee (additional information and fees are required for any electrical, plumbing, mechanical or gas modifications or the building of a structure larger than 120 square feet).

That’s the bulk of the process for the two-year permit, but applicants should also be aware of additional permit provisions. For example, city code enforcement, police and/or the community development director can request inspection of a grower’s property with a minimum 72-hour notice. DePaola said these inspections will be conducted on a complaint-driven basis.

The minimum for all other code enforcement inspection notices is 24 hours, DePaola said, and citizens can always deny entry, in which case the city has to pursue an inspection warrant signed by a civil court judge. However, the ordinance says refusal can be grounds to revoke the permit, which is legally required for growing. DePaola said this is standard for all code enforcement issues.

Permit information is also subject to California Public Records Act requests—an issue brought up during Planning Commission talks about the subject late last year—but the city “may redact personal identifying information of the applicant to protect the medical privacy rights or general privacy interests of the applicant,” according to the City Clerk’s Office, based on feedback from the City Attorney’s Office.

According to the ordinance, the regulations were created for the “preservation and protection of the public health, safety and welfare” of the city, because personal cultivation activities “give rise to or pose a significant risk of giving rise to” burglaries and robberies, trespassing, personal and property crimes, fire and building hazards, chemical and waste disposal, mold growth, offensive odors and possession and use by those younger than 21.

Violations will be responded to like other code enforcement cases, with a warning followed by a citation/fining process and potential for an infraction or misdemeanor charge.

Any violation of city, county or state law can make the grower susceptible to losing his or her permit. Revocation can always be challenged by filing an appeal within 10 days of the revocation notice, which will be resolved by the city manager.

“Yes, we are regulating [cannabis] maybe more restrictively than other communities, but we aren’t prohibiting recreational use of marijuana,” DePaola said. “We are trying to treat it just as any other permit or code enforcement case. We just prohibit commercial operation in the city.”

MacKenzie called the council’s decision “incredibly short-sighted.” She’s never been a huge proponent of “grow-your-own” as the solution to “safe, regulated access,” but she values the right.

Growing doesn’t provide a solution for people today, simply because of the nature of the plant’s cycle, she said. “If the goal is safe, regulated access, it has to be immediate. You need commercial, just like I am able to go into the store and buy cough syrup.”

Butte County could be Northern California’s inland cannabis hub because of its climate, soil and the skillset of its farmers, MacKenzie said. It could have taken a leading position and become an economic powerhouse. “We are throwing away an industry that could salvage us and make us a mecca.”

Enforcement of laws that do not work (i.e., indoor growing requirements and prohibition of commercial activity) ends up being paid for out of taxpayers’ pockets, MacKenzie added, with the alternative being a regulated industry that generates money to fund itself and the city, including enforcement against violators.

“I don’t see how you can make an argument against that,” she said, adding that municipalities with precarious financial standings—including Chico—would be wise to consider it.

Cannabis farmers have been here for decades, and they want to be legitimate, MacKenzie summed up. “Every city in the county and the county itself is saying, ‘No, you can’t. We are going to continue to treat you like crooks and criminals and outlaws. We’re going to continue to make you hide.’”