The San Luis Obispo City Council will consider a new law Tuesday that would put strict limits on medical marijuana users within the city.
The ordinance, if passed, would prohibit qualified patients or caregivers — those people with a doctor’s written recommendation — from growing marijuana outside and limit growing indoors to an area of no more than 50 square feet.
The law would also ban mobile marijuana dispensaries from operating in the city.
The proposed regulations stem from a complaint made to the City Council in November 2013 by neighbors living next door to a house in downtown San Luis Obispo where residents were growing 12 6-foot-tall marijuana plants in the backyard.
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The proposal has triggered outrage by medical marijuana advocates, who say the city is over regulating.
“This is draconian,” said Christine Mulholland, a former councilwoman and longtime medical marijuana activist. “This ordinance is a dying gasp of Reefer Madness.”
But those people who lived next door to the house on Leff Street say that unavoidable consequences such as the constant pungent smell as the plants grew more pronounced need to be addressed.
Denise and Mike Shandroff’s home office overlooks the neighbors’ backyard. “The plants were five to six feet tall and up to five feet in diameter,” Denise Shandroff said. “It looked like an orchard. The larger they got and the closer to harvest, the smellier it got, and the odor was overwhelming.”
Soon, the couple said they also began to worry about safety.
“I was waiting for someone to come over the fence with a gun,” Mike Shandroff said.
City Attorney Christine Dietrick said that the Shandroffs’ concerns were enough to prompt the City Council to ask for an ordinance to be drafted.
“This was an extreme example of a grow — and the smell — it was just over the top,” Dietrick said. “You hope that people will conduct themselves in a professional manner. Sometimes when they don’t, government has to step in.”
San Luis Obispo police Capt. Chris Staley said the residents, who have since moved their growing operation indoors, were within their legal rights.
The passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, known as the Compassionate Use Care Act, allows California residents to grow up to six mature plants.
“Without any restrictions, we realized this could be a major problem,” Staley said. “If more people wanted to turn their backyard into a significant grow, the impacts could be huge.”
The Shandroffs said they were not looking to ban medical marijuana but rather to find a way to limit the overall impacts on those people living nearby. Mulholland argues that existing nuisance laws could be used to handle complaints.
“I never thought I would have to come back and argue this again,” she said. “I am dismayed and astounded that it has come to this. It would put us back 20 years and send patients back to the black market.”
Ryan Booker, executive director of the Ethnobotanica Patients Cooperative in San Luis Obispo County, said that prohibiting mobile dispensaries would not stop distribution in the city.
“It is really going to encourage the black market to thrive,” he said. His company, which includes a mobile dispensary, has about 1,400 members in San Luis Obispo County.
Booker said he worries that the San Luis Obispo City Council could set a precedent for neighboring cities should it pass the new law. Currently, Arroyo Grande prohibits mobile dispensaries but other cities allow them.
Louis Koory, a San Luis Obispo attorney who has represented clients in medical marijuana-related cases, said the ordinance, if passed, will be legally challenged.
“The city is on the wrong side of the curve here as far as how our society treats cannabis,” Koory said. “They are reaching into a playbook that is 30 years old. Clearly, this is a government effort to put the genie back in the bottle.”
The San Luis Obispo City Council will discuss the ordinance at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the Council Chambers at 990 Palm St.