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Growing pot is now illegal in Lathrop
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Growing marijuana under any circumstances is now illegal in Lathrop.

The Lathrop City Council on Monday voted 4-1 – with councilman Omar Ornelas dissenting – to approve a resolution that will make it a crime to cultivate any marijuana, indoor or outdoor, within the limits even if the person is a licensed California medical marijuana cardholder.

The item was requested by the council for review and is partially in response to recent amended California law that restricts the square footage that individual cardholders can use to grow marijuana – limiting the space down to 100 square-feet for individuals and up to 500 square-feet for a small cooperative of five people or less.

And while the move championed by Lathrop Police Services – who operate as part of the San Joaquin County Sherriff’s Department which recently championed a similar move within rural San Joaquin County to the Board of Supervisors – it was fiercely criticized by Ornelas who said that scare tactics were being used to make all marijuana growing sound evil even amongst people who actually need it.

“If we’re talking about the negative impacts of marijuana I think we need to realize that are legitimate uses to the people who need it,” Ornelas said. “Because if we don’t make that distinction and talk about the differences then we’re just going to be talking about marijuana and the problem that it brings to the community and that’s not fair to the people who legitimately need it.”

Law enforcement officials have long contended that California’s relatively liberal compassionate use act has created loopholes that are exploited by people simply to land on the right side of the law when it comes to marijuana purchase and consumption.

The Federal Government still doesn’t recognize individual states that pass laws regarding medical usage or outright decriminalization – it remains a prosecutable offense and several dispensaries in the area have been shut down for running afoul of the law.

And those legal issues are exactly what Lathrop Police Services Lt. James Hood addressed when speaking to the council Monday night – noting that it becomes a quality of life issue for residents who make weekly complaints to the department about the foul-smelling plants that are being grown in a neighbor’s yard.

The lucrative cash-side of the business, he said, can bring thieves and an underbelly that grows out of control. In the last three years, Hood said, there have been two homicides directly related to the cultivation of marijuana within the city limits.

“Each year we investigate between 30 and 50 calls of medical marijuana, and we get calls once a week from people but we can’t regulate the medical marijuana growing without some sort of ordinance,” said Hood, who referenced a recent case where a single grower was discovered to have $50,000 worth of marijuana growing in his yard. “And if we discover somebody that is growing illegally and we go in and take those plants and there’s a judge that’s compassionate to that then they order us to pay that back. We don’t know what kind of chemicals people use either which is another problem. I grow hay at my house and in order to be able to use fertilizer I need to go to the San Joaquin Department of Agriculture and take a test and get a special permit.

“These guys are stealing water from the city and they’re stealing power from the power company. It has become a big issue.”

And the move to ban all cultivation operations even earned the praise from one woman who displayed her medical marijuana card to the council and said that she’s in favor of the new regulation.

The woman, identifying herself as “Jennifer” held up a copy of her California paperwork and her medical marijuana card and said that if she needs any of the medication that helps with her fibromyalgia and COPD then she can simply drive to Stockton within 15 minutes.

“I wonder about what kind of chemicals are being used in these operations. My dog is sick right now and is probably going to die and the only thing that has changed around my house is that there is a marijuana growing operations next door,” she said. “Some of you know me – (councilwoman) Ornelas you even taught my son. And I bet that none of you knew anything about me. I don’t know what kind of prescriptions you pick up at the pharmacy and you don’t know what kind of medications I’m taking.

“That’s the way that it should be. “

Aside from San Joaquin County, Tracy is the only other city that has an active ban on all indoor and outdoor growing operations. Hood said that he didn’t want to see Lathrop become just another stop along the I-5 corridor where people can cultivate large-scale marijuana operations.

“I don’t want to see Lathrop become just a bedroom community for marijuana grows —  that is what we’re trying to prevent.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.