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Pot growing limits on council agenda

By John Geluardi Daily Planet Staff
Saturday March 17, 2001

The City Council will have to hash out one final problem in the Medical Marijuana Ordinance it will consider Tuesday night – what amounts individuals and collectives will be allowed to grow and possess. 

Medical marijuana advocates want the ordinance to match Oakland’s, which allows individuals to grow 144 plants indoors or 60 outdoors. Collective growers have no limits. City staff is recommending that Berkeley’s ordinance stay more in line with counties such as Marin and allow individuals to grow no more than 10 plants and limit collectives to  

50 plants.  

The council first referred the issue to the City Attorney’s Office in December 1999 asking for a draft ordinance that would allow chronically ill and terminally ill patients to legally grow and use marijuana. 

The draft was then sent to the Community Health Commission in July. The CHC revised the ordinance allowing more plants for personal use and possession than city staff had recommended. City Manager Weldon Rucker asked the commission to reduce the allowable numbers. The CHC voted not to reduce the quantity and sent the recommendation to the City Council on Jan. 25. 

Now the City Council will attempt to decide on reasonable amounts for individuals and collectives to grow. 

“We had staff look at what was a reasonable dosage and considered legal implications,” said Fred Medrano, director of Health and Human Services.  

“Oakland allowing 144 plants just doesn’t make any sense. You just don’t need that many for medical purposes.” 

Lt. Russell Lopes addressed the CHC on Jan. 25 and said the department supports medical marijuana use but does not support growing a large number of plants. He said that large amounts of marijuana being grown in homes or in collectives might encourage burglary and possibly home-invasion robberies. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he supports a larger number of allowable plants, but said what number the council will be able to agree on remains to be seen. “Ten plants per year is clearly not sufficient,” he said. “When you say 10 plants you have to remember that not every plant becomes full grown and is usable.” 

Councilmember Polly Armstrong said it will be a challenge for the council to determine a fair number. She said she would rather err on the side of smaller amounts. “We want to take care of people who need it and we have a lot of learning to do to know what that means,” she said. “I have to say 144 plants sounds like a lot, but I’m not a farmer or a marijuana cultivator,” she said. “I do know that we don’t want Berkeley to turn into the Amsterdam of northern California.” 

Tod Mikuriya, a Berkeley resident and former psychiatrist in charge of marijuana research for the National Institute of Mental Health, said Oakland enacted its Medical Marijuana Ordinance two years ago and has not had problems. 

He said Berkeley should have adopted an ordinance a long time ago and would have if the city attorney and city manager had not tried to stall the issue. 

“It’s really a disgrace when a city like Oakland, which does not have a reputation for being terribly liberal, can move ahead with a good ordinance,” Mikuriya said “and here in Berkeley we have a city government that’s being run by a group of civil servants against the will of the people.” 

Court approved cannabis expert Chris Conrad said the problem with lower numbers of allowable plants is that it assumes all the plants will be usable and the grower will experience no problems. 

“The city manager’s recommendation for 10 plants is utopian in that it assumes your growing system will work perfectly all year around,” he said. “It doesn’t take into consideration things like bug infestations or growers having to stop a crop because their electricity bill is too high.” 

Co-medical Director of the East Bay Aids Center Steve O’Brien said growing 20 to 25 plants would be reasonable. He said that his patients who grow marijuana usually grow between four and 10 plants at a time. “The number one goal should be to protect the rights of sick people to use the drug,” he said. “If the higher numbers are approved there will be too much room for abuse.”