Marijuana: A Legal Grey Area

The County of Santa Cruz recently began looking at the regulation of medical marijuana growing operations in the region. At the moment, it is legal to grow medical marijuana with a state-regulated medical marijuana card. However, there are large numbers of undocumented and illegal grows that continue to pose problems and enforcement challenges to the county.

After a 90-minute hearing on June 18, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors came to a unanimous decision to better manage unregulated grows. The board cited public safety, land use and the environment as issues of concern. In March 2013 the Santa Cruz Sentinel posted an article about two house fires linked to unregulated pot grows. The grows oftentimes generate large amounts of power—which tends to overwhelm electrical systems and start fires.

In Santa Cruz County, a patient with a medical card is allowed to grow marijuana plants in an area of up to 100 square feet. Still, there are unregulated grows throughout Santa Cruz County for a variety of reasons.


Some growers cite as reason for their un-permitted status the fact that growing medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law, meaning that they could still be subject to federal prosecution. Such growers prefer to avoid any and all government regulation rather than risk a raid and federal action.

Other growers, like one I spoke with, are renters. Put simply, tenants of a property aren’t comfortable telling a property manager that they intend to grow marijuana on their property, even under legal auspices.

Additionally, some growers want to cultivate more marijuana than can fit into an area of 100 square feet. Many who are producing for distribution through legal dispensaries fear that they will not be able to produce enough, as the 100-square-foot limit was set for individuals.

Furthermore, the growers I spoke with said it was less of a hassle to grow illegally than to go through the legal process of obtaining a permit.

As it stands now, County staff members are preparing a series of recommended changes to the current local laws governing how, where and to what extent marijuana can be grown. The County Board of Supervisors will be considering these changes in November. In the meantime, Civinomics is hosting an online workshop to gather input from county residents about these laws, the results of which will be shared with county officials. To participate, click here to submit and vote on proposed changes. You can also submit links to outside information and discuss a variety of related topics in the “forum” section.

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