The county has been closing in on collectives for more than a year now and Tuesday's vote is a big win for law enforcement, just as Sheriff Margaret Mims met with federal agents about the issue. But the war is far from over.
A vacant, fenced-up building represents success for the Fresno County Sheriff's office. A month ago, investigators raided the Buds-4-Life collective here as part of an operation looking for proof of profit. Dozens of customers scattered, and the collective has never re-opened at this location.
Fresno County Supervisors are considering a new ordinance to force every collective to close up shop, limiting them to 45 locations throughout the county and many collective owners are willing to change their locations.
"If we were to move them to realistic locations outside of residential areas, away from schools, away from sensitive uses, we can still make everyone happy," said Sean Dwyer of the California Herbal Relief Center.
Neighbors in Old Fig and Tarpey Village say the collectives bring a criminal element and pose a danger to kids at nearby schools. People living near open air pot fields are also concerned. "We're basically prisoners on our own property," said Steven Petersen.
Petersen worries about his wife and two kids living only 100 yards away from the pot field disguised only by a seven-foot fence and a black tarp. A guard tower looks out over the field. "You've got gang members out there taking care of it," he said. "They've got guns. They've got spotlights on it at night time."
But despite an existing county ordinance banning outdoor marijuana grows, Petersen says the Sheriff's Office has left the crops alone here for two years. And many medical marijuana supporters say deputies won't be allowed to enforce the proposed restrictions on collectives.
"Some of the components of the currently proposed ordinance will be struck down the moment that I and numerous other attorneys start taking you to court," said criminal defense attorney Rick Horowitz.
Supervisors will have another vote in August to give the ordinance their final approval.
The law also says patients can't smoke their marijuana on site; it forces collectives at least 1,000 feet away from schools, parks, and churches; and it requires security measures including guards and cameras. Collectives would have until next March to come into compliance, but their attorneys say they'll file a lawsuit to stop enforcement.