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TheStreet Open House

Earth Day No Party for Pot Farmers

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Growing marijuana would seem to be a pretty Earth Day-friendly idea. It provides medicinal and recreational benefits, plus hefty tax revenues. However, the state of California isn't feeling the love of Mother Earth for the growers.

The state that kicked off the legalization movement is increasingly banning outdoor growing in different municipalities. While the state legalized the cultivation of medicinal marijuana, many towns wanted to just say no. Live Oak was the first to step up with a ban and the courts supported them. The California Supreme Court decided against reviewing the court decision that allowed the town of Live Oak to ban cultivation for personal use. This decision basically gave other towns the confidence to enact bans.

Sacramento County will celebrate Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, by holding a hearing on a proposal to ban indoor and outdoor cultivation in unincorporated areas. Just last week, the Martinez city council voted to outlaw growing medicinal marijuana outdoors or within public view. Beaumont, Calif. banned it in February of 2014 and the city of Gridley has banned outdoor cultivation. St. Helena and Selma city councils have both disallowed outdoor gardens.

The city of Moraga will only allow indoor cultivation if it isn't visible. Roseville has a total ban. Fresno County is also trying to ban marijuana growing, but a lawsuit by an individual, Michael Green, cited the California Environmental Quality Act in an attempt to block the ban.

It isn't a surprise that courts believe towns have the right to ban marijuana, even though the state approves it. The precedent was set when alcohol prohibition was repealed. Many towns and even counties opted to remain "dry." According to the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association more than 500 municipalities are dry and nearly one half of Mississippi's counties are dry. Moore County in Tennessee, home to distiller Jack Daniels is dry. So the precedent is set.

Since California has not regulated the marijuana industry like Colorado and Washington, there are many individuals that have taken advantage of the situation. Farms with armed guards, barbed wire fences and expensive security equipment are signs that these aren't citizens growing their legally allotted plants. Crime has increased in Fresno County, which has experienced nine murders since 2012 prompting the county to consider the ban.

Then there is the drought issue in California. There are complaints of water theft from the pot growers who need six gallons of water a day per plant. Since California is under a three-year drought, there is little tolerance for water thieves. Scott Bauer, a fisheries biologist with the Department of Fish and Wildlife said 24 tributaries of the Eel River went dry because the water was being used to irrigate pot farms.

"There's no real question the marijuana industry is now the biggest single sector in terms of our concerns," said Scott Greacen, Friends of the Eel River director. He wrote, "Local governments must define the limits of acceptable practices, so responsible growers know where they stand and law enforcement can more easily shut down destructive operations."

As these growers bring crime, water theft and other risks, the community feels threatened. The medicinal marijuana plants are intended to help sick people, but if they make the environment sick, no one wins.

-- Written by Debra Borchardt in New York.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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