Mariposa County considers tougher marijuana growing laws


State law says local governments can create more restrictive rules for medicinal marijuana than those that govern California.

When you look at Mariposa, you may not think about marijuana grows, but the county extends far beyond the historic downtown and the sheriff says pot has become a serious problem.

In 2010, authorities eradicated 200-thousand plants in the county -- primarily on public lands. Now Sheriff Doug Binnewies says criminals are exploiting the state's medical marijuana law to grow pot for profit in local neighborhoods. "Since 1996 with the introduction of the Compassionate Act, we started seeing an increase in really serious violent crime that was focusing on these medicinal grows."

The sheriff cites several home invasions, shootings, and the attempted car jacking of a mother and daughter as examples. That's why the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors is now considering an ordinance to regulate medicinal grows -- similar to one recently passed in Merced County.

The proposal would limit each parcel to 12 plants and prohibit any outdoor grows within 1,000 feet of schools, bus stops, churches, parks, or youth oriented facilities. Violators could face fines of one thousand dollars per day and up to six months in jail.

"I think there is a danger of putting an ordinance in place that does restrict people's use, legitimate use, I should say," said Lee Stetson, Mariposa County Supervisor.

Stetson is a supporter of medical marijuana rights and wants to protect patients who rely on it. He and other supervisors listened to concerns last week from opponents who believe the ordinance will be too restrictive. But the board then voted unanimously to take the next step toward the new regulations.

"The profit level drives people to do unseemly things to say the least, and we need to be able to address that problem," said Stetson.

The proposal will now be fine-tuned before coming back to the board. The Board of Supervisors does not have an exact date yet for when it will consider an updated ordinance, but officials expect it will happen before the end of the year.

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