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County of Santa Clara to Regulate Patient and Caregiver Medicinal Marijuana Cultivation in Unincorporated Areas

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF.—Today, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors passed the Patient and Caregiver Medical Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance (NO. NS-300.884) to regulate the cultivation and storage of medicinal marijuana for patients and caregivers in unincorporated areas, including prohibiting any distribution.  The ordinance will become effective 30 days after the second reading on Oct. 20, 2015.
The County will regulate cultivation by three or fewer qualified patients and primary caregivers.  The County already banned cultivation involving four or more qualified patients or primary caregivers who constitute a dispensary or collective.
The new ordinance includes limits on cultivation location and size; general grow regulations; water, electrical, and fuel regulations; storage and processing regulations; and violations, fines and criminal penalties.  
“We have to maintain a delicate balance that addresses public health and environmental safety issues related to medicinal marijuana grows, without infringing on caregiver and patient access to marijuana for compassionate use,” said Deputy County Executive Sylvia Gallegos. “I’m confident we are moving in the right direction.”  
Under the new ordinance:
·         Cultivation must take place at the patient’s or primary caregiver’s residence.
·         Cultivation is limited to either one location indoors or one location outdoors.
o    Indoor cultivation is limited to a single space no larger than 50 square feet and must be contained within a single room.
o    Outdoor cultivation is limited to a total of 12 plants.
·         Patients and caregivers are limited to storing no more than 8 ounces of dried and processed medical marijuana at a given time, or an amount reasonably related to the patient’s current medical needs.
Both indoor and outdoor grows must meet the following requirements:
·         There may be only one cultivation plot per residence, regardless of the number of patients or caregivers residing there.
·         If the cultivator rents the property where marijuana is cultivated, he or she must obtain the landlord’s written permission.
·         The cultivation may not be visible or detectable from any property or any public right of way.
·         The cultivator must obtain all necessary permits and follow all applicable laws regarding electrical components and water use.
·         The total wattage of all grow lights used may not exceed 1,200 watts (to prevent circuit overload and risk of fire).
Because outdoor cultivation is more likely to be visible to passers-by, potentially disturb neighbors with odors and other nuisances, and may attract people seeking to obtain marijuana for recreational use, the ordinance includes the following additional regulations for outdoor cultivation operations:
·         The outdoor cultivation must be surrounded by a locking fence that complies with existing fence codes.
·         The marijuana plants may not exceed the height of the fence.
·         Outdoor cultivation is prohibited in any front yard, as well as within specified setbacks for:
parks, schools and school bus stops (within 1,000 feet), and property lines.
Recently, the California Legislature passed three bills – Assembly Bill 243, Assembly Bill 266, and Senate Bill 643 – that together create the State’s first comprehensive regulatory scheme for medical marijuana, and will be implemented by several State agencies. Although the Governor is expected to sign these bills into law this month, the bills preserve the authority of local governments to regulate or prohibit commercial medical marijuana operations through ordinances, zoning, and licensing or permitting processes.  The bills also ensure that local governments may continue to regulate personal cultivation of medical marijuana by qualified patients and primary caregivers.
Regulating the cultivation of marijuana is expected to reduce the risks of criminal activity, degradation of the natural environment, offensive odor, and fire hazards that may result from unregulated medicinal marijuana cultivation. During enforcement actions against illegal grow sites, the County discovered illegally diverted water from public watercourses, which is especially detrimental to the community and natural resources during drought conditions.  These illegal cultivators have also deposited hazardous materials into the ground, including pesticides and other chemicals, which will run into the county’s water supply.
A cultivation site may be illegal under State or local law. The Office of the Sheriff will enforce the ordinance as the lead investigative agency. The ordinance would be enforced based on complaints received by the enforcement agencies.  If a complaint indicates a minor violation, the enforcement officer would provide notice and time to remedy the violation.  If the violation is major or poses an immediate threat to health, safety, or the environment, the investigating officer would have the authority to abate the violation, including removing all associated marijuana plants. Law enforcement may seize marijuana plants, as well as dried and/or processed marijuana.
Between 2011 and 2013, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office issued criminal charges against 172 illegal marijuana growing operations. Of these cases, 118 were identified as “indoor grows” and 54 were classified as “outdoor grows.”  Of the 118 illegal indoor marijuana grows, 76 of those grow locations involved converted homes; two were located in converted warehouses; and 41 other locations were identified as rental properties.
The Sheriff’s Office Marijuana Eradication Team (MET) enforces all criminal laws of the 1,290 square miles in Santa Clara County. During 2015, MET has conducted 19 investigations, eight search warrants, removed seven firearms from community streets and arrested 30 people for the cultivations and sales of illegal marijuana. The team has eradicated a total of 33,244 plants with a total value of $66 million. In addition, since May of this year, the Sheriff’s Office, in partnership with other County and State departments, has conducted five investigations, four search warrants, and abatement actions on five illegal grow operations within the Croy Road/Uvas Canyon area of south county. Those actions yielded 10 arrests, removal of one firearm, and the confiscation and destruction of over 5,706 marijuana plants with an estimated street value of about $11 million.  The Office of the District Attorney has filed criminal charges against nine defendants in connection with these actions and the Office of the County Counsel has assisted several County departments with enforcement actions to abate the environmental damage caused by these illegal operations.
To report illegal indoor or outdoor grow sites anonymously, contact the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office Marijuana Eradication Team at 408-808-4420.  Maps, diagrams, GPS coordinates and tips may be faxed to 408-293-5192 or emailed to
During the past year, the County has taken multiple actions to address marijuana dispensaries, cultivation, and health and safety issues, including:
·        In August 2014, banning medicinal marijuana dispensaries and cultivation collectives in the unincorporated areas;
·        Stepping in to fill State and City regulatory gaps, relating to medical marijuana dispensaries by addressing food and marijuana edible safety, ensuring worker safety in the application of pesticides, and verifying the accuracy of weights and measure devices; and
·        Implementing multi-department (Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney, Code Enforcement, County Executive’s Office, Department of Environmental Health, Hazardous Materials, Animal Control, and County Counsel) and multi-agency (State Fish and Wildlife and CalFire) enforcement actions against illegal marijuana grow sites, particularly in the unincorporated hillsides.
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Media Contact: Gwendolyn Mitchell/Laurel Anderson, Office of Public Affairs 408/299-5119
Posted: Oct. 6, 2015
Last updated: 6/22/2017 12:55 PM