Where’s the evidence?

A look at the reasoning behind banning outdoor grows

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For CN&R's coverage of the meeting at which the council banned outdoor growing, see Howard Hardee's report on page 9.

The Chico City Council moved on Tuesday to adopt an ordinance banning commercial marijuana as well as outdoor growing of it, despite a recommendation from the Planning Commission to wait on the latter.

The gist of the matter is that, come Jan. 1, 2018, it will be legal in the state of California to sell cannabis under Proposition 64 and the state will begin issuing licenses and permits for everything from dispensaries to commercial gardens. If a local government doesn’t have a law in place regulating—or banning—such activity, it will be assumed to be allowed by the state.

That is the main reasoning behind acting now on banning commercial marijuana in the city of Chico, according to the staff report compiled by the City Attorney’s Office and presented to council in advance of Tuesday’s meeting. “It is imperative that the City have an adopted ordinance in advance of the January 1, 2018 date in order to place the state on notice as to the City’s position concerning commercial cannabis activity so that the provisions of the City’s local ordinance and regulations are not violated,” the report reads.

In addition, a law passed over the summer by the state Legislature streamlines regulations for both medicinal and recreational marijuana. That was the impetus for combining the language regarding commercial activity and growing for personal use. Currently, it is legal in the city to grow marijuana outside without a permit and inside with one (though there have been no permits issued). The ordinance passed Tuesday bans outdoor grows, ostensibly to improve public safety.

“People with outdoor grows are more susceptible to home-invasion robberies,” Chico Police Chief Mike O’Brien told the CN&R by phone. “It’s not exclusive to outdoor grows, but you can see them—you know they’re there. People aren’t stupid.”

According to the city attorney’s staff report, “The Chico Police Department believes that allowing outdoor marijuana grows (medical and non-medical) will exacerbate an already high crime level.”

But without statistics, the Planning Commission wasn’t ready to take the police department’s word that outdoor grows increase crime. “The police department has said that there’s crime that’s associated with outdoor grows,” commission Chair Toni Scott told the CN&R last week. “But we didn’t have the hard data to make an informed decision on whether that was the right direction to go.”

In answering the Planning Commission’s call for more information to back up that statement, the report includes statistics on recent crimes, including the two homicides thus far in 2017, two shootings that were deemed drug-related, 46 robberies, 1,923 thefts and 717 burglaries including vehicle burglaries.

“The Chico Police Department believes that the statistics above support their concerns for allowing outdoor marijuana grows as it pertains to criminal behavior, which ultimately turns violent,” the report reads.

The thing is, those statistics don’t necessarily have anything to do with outdoor grows, or even marijuana.

“No, the homicide at the Safari Inn was not related to marijuana,” O’Brien said. “I can say that between Oct. 1, 2015, and Oct. 1 of this year there were 62 arrests for marijuana citations. And in the past 10 years, I’ve seen more home-invasion robberies for marijuana than any other drug. It can be a nexus to that violent crime.”

How many of those citations were grow-related? That statistic is unknown.

“The issue is finding someone that will go through all those reports to see the exact nature of the citation,” O’Brien said. “They depend on your perspective. It’s not always measurely.”

Another area of concern for the Planning Commission was the issuance of permits for indoor grows. For one, there is a permit process currently in place—but nobody has applied for one, though clearly there are people who grow marijuana indoors. Second, the commission was concerned about the public availability of personal permit information—in particular, addresses associated with marijuana gardens. Scott worried that making that information public would invite crime into people’s homes.

The City Attorney’s Office, in addressing questions regarding code enforcement, listed every complaint received regarding marijuana grows in the past two years. It includes names and addresses, but does not indicate whether the complaint was founded or not. Leo DePaola, community development director for the city who oversees code enforcement, said he did not have statistics on how many violations had been found in relation to marijuana grows, either indoor or outdoor. When asked about the publication of names and addresses, he said, “The city attorney would not put out anything that was not public record.”

City Attorney Vince Ewing did not return an email seeking comment by press time. His office is in the City of Industry.

For DePaola’s part, he said he believes moving grows indoors will actually make code enforcement’s job more difficult. “To investigate a violation, we’ll be accessing someone’s home,” he said. “Right now if it’s outdoors and someone complains, we go look over the fence—it’s very easy to follow up on.”

He said once the ordinance is finalized—it must still come back for a second reading—the permit process will be created. It will, he said, include a provision allowing access to a permitted grow with a 72-hour notice.