A citywide ban on growing and distributing medical marijuana has been in effect for about two months, and local law enforcement is cracking down on local grow operations.
Kings County Narcotic Task Force officer Frank Martinez said he has issued warnings to the residents of about 15 houses in Hanford since the ordinance took effect in late November. Those houses were those that have generated complaints to police.
Martinez said growers were given an explanation of the ordinance and time to abate marijuana crops before legal action is taken. One instance, he said, has already led to a search warrant and a subsequent recommendation that the district attorney’s office file charges for a violation of the municipal code.
The ordinance makes it a misdemeanor to grow or distribute medical marijuana, punishable by up to six months in jail or a fine of $1,000. Each day the violation continues is considered a separate offense.
Because Hanford’s ordinance went into effect after most outdoor marijuana grows had been harvested, Martinez said he expects to receive more complaints starting in the spring when growers typically replant their crop.
Marijuana crops within the city limits can consist of as many as 50 to 80 plants, depending on the size of the property and whether the operation is indoors or outdoors, Martinez said. Some growers will give reasons why they need a large number of plants for personal medical use.
“Some people say they bathe in it and they need a pound of it to bathe in,” Martinez said.
Some accepted medical uses for marijuana are as vague as “severe pain” or “serious illness.” While conducting research for the ordinance, Martinez said, police Chief Parker Sever found sources that said the drug could treat toenail fungus.
Martinez said most patients with legitimate medical needs don’t have a large number of plants.
“You’ll usually find through investigation whether they’re using their [medical marijuana] recommendation legitimately, or if they even have a recommendation,” Martinez said.
The Hanford City Council approved the ban in late October following several months of discussion. At the time, Sever said the ordinance was necessary to address property crimes connected with large medical marijuana grows in the city, as well as complaints from neighbors regarding the accompanying smell.
Sever said, to date, the ordinance hasn't generated much resistance from the community.
"We've had some positive responses from neighbors who had been complaining," Sever said. "We really have not had a lot of people complain about the ordinance.
While similar policies have generated controversy in other parts of California, the council approved the ban in Hanford without opposition from the public.
“We really stand behind it and I think the community as a whole stands behind it,” Martinez said of the ordinance.
Other local agencies, including Kings County and Corcoran, have adopted similar policies aimed at addressing loopholes in Proposition 215, approved by California voters in 1996 to allow seriously ill patients to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor’s recommendation.
In 2013, the California Supreme Court ruled that cities can regulate the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana, including banning those and related activities.