More than 30,000 marijuana plants have been eradicated since July, when Riverside County began enforcing its new ban on marijuana cultivation. Sheriff’s and code enforcement teams have responded to more than 500 marijuana grows, the vast majority in two supervisorial districts in western Riverside County.
The ordinance took effect July 2 and provides a tool to combat the expanding number of marijuana grows in unincorporated Riverside County. More than a year ago, Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said large marijuana growing operations had created fear among residents in his district.
Growing marijuana can be prosecuted as a crime but Jeffries and other Board members wanted a land-use ordinance that could be used to eliminate large-scale grows while allowing authorized patients to grow their own small amounts medical marijuana. Most of the marijuana grows were removed under the new ordinance but the Sheriff’s Department handled some as criminal cases.
“We have made great strides in eliminating commercial marijuana grows in residential neighborhoods without generating complaints from those who were growing for their own licensed, limited personal use.” Jeffries said. “Some of that is great work by Code Enforcement and the Sheriff’s Department but as word spread about the new ordinance, far fewer grows were even planted.”
Of the 30,110 marijuana plants eradicated since July 2, teams found 17,783 in supervisorial District 1 and 10,466 in District 3. The number was 1,861 in District 5, with none in the other two districts. Grows have not been as prolific in the other two districts, perhaps because of existing development and topography.
Under the ordinance, a primary caregiver or qualified patient may grow up to 12 marijuana plants on the grounds of a single-family dwelling. Twenty-four plants may be grown if there are two patients or caregivers. In both cases, at least one must live on the property. Qualified patients must have a valid medical marijuana identification card issued by the county Department of Public Health.
Any primary caregiver cultivating marijuana for a qualified patient must keep a copy of the patient’s valid identification card on the premises. Growers also must meet a number of requirements in order to qualify for the enforcement exemption. For example, all plants must be reasonably secured to prevent theft or access by minors, and marijuana cannot be grown within 1,000 feet of any school, community center, or park.
County code enforcement officials said property owners generally have cooperated after being notified of violations on their property. That cooperation has occurred, at least in part, because of potential administrative penalties and abatement costs. Most property owners removed immature plants themselves to comply with the ordinance. Immature plants have not developed buds that typically are the part of the plant that is smoked or ingested. Mature plants are taken by sheriff’s officials to a site approved for disposal.
Under the ordinance, the county may bill the property owner or other responsible party to recover costs after abating a grow. If the bill is not paid within 15 days of mailing, a special assessment can be issued and the county can file a lien against the property. The ordinance includes an appeals process and also defines other nuisances that can exist as part of a marijuana growing operation, including harvesting, drying, processing or storing marijuana or plants. Such nuisances also may be subject to an administrative civil penalty up to $1,000 per day. Further violations of the ordinance within two years would subject violators to triple the abatement costs, as allowed under state law. The ordinance also establishes that any person who violates the ordinance is guilty of a misdemeanor.