Pot discussion rages on

Planning Commission wants more info, but decision on banning outdoor grows up to council

The Chico Planning Commission took up the issue of marijuana regulation last week and, after two hours of discussion, recommended going forward with a ban on commercial activity but rejecting a provision that would force all growing indoors.

Currently, outdoor grows are allowed for medical marijuana. Last year’s passage of Proposition 64 gives adults the legal right to grow up to six plants per residence for recreational use. In an effort to streamline local regulations for both uses, the City Council at a recent meeting moved to merge growing regulations and require that all grows be indoor-only. The main reason for this seemed to be from a law enforcement perspective—outdoor grows invite crime, the police have said.

That wasn’t good enough for Toni Scott, commission chair. “The police department has said that there’s crime that’s associated with outdoor grows,” she said by phone. “But we didn’t have the hard data to make an informed decision on whether that was the right direction to go.”

In addition, an unintended consequence of requiring grows be indoors is the increase in energy use. That concern was voiced loudly by Mark Stemen, chair of Chico’s Sustainability Task Force, a city panel.

“They’re making a decision without a clear understanding of the consequences,” Stemen said during a recent interview. “They say outdoor grows are a nuisance—well, what they don’t understand is that climate change can be quite a nuisance, too.”

Stemen’s main argument against forcing grows inside is the Sustainability Task Force’s Million Watt Challenge, which recently ended in success. With the city—including businesses, civic projects and residences—reaching its goal of cutting down energy use by 1 million watts, it sent a big message that combating climate change is a priority. Forcing grows indoors would run completely counter to that, Stemen says, as the electricity needed to grow plants indoors is exorbitant.

Scott said she appreciated Stemen’s statements and that she would like to learn more about the implications of indoor growing. While energy consumption is a big concern, she said, Scott was more worried about the permitting process for indoor grows that was set forth in the staff report. She was uncomfortable with provisions that would allow law enforcement or the community development director or code enforcement to enter any home where a permit was granted with simply a 72-hour notice—no complaint needed.

“We want to have law-abiding citizens, but I don’t want to have that at the risk of our citizens’ privacy rights,” she said.

In addition, she requested more information about whether the permits will be public record. If so, she said, she cannot support that—it goes counter to any argument about indoor grows being better for public safety.

The commission voted unanimously to recommend that the council request more information before banning outdoor grows, but to go forward with banning commercial marijuana within city limits. Of course, the council has the final say and can go forward with banning outdoor grows should it see fit.

“If they do that, they’re not hearing our concerns,” Scott said. “We’re asking for more information to make sure we’re making the right decision.”