As harvest season nears and marijuana plants get taller, so do the fences that try to hide the grow operations from neighbors and law enforcement.
Only licensed growers can legally cultivate the plants outdoors for recreational use.
If it is for medical use, qualifying patients and designated providers are instructed by state law to grow indoors, where such activity cannot “be readily seen by normal unaided vision or readily smelled from a public place or the private property of another housing unit.”
But those restrictions haven’t stopped people from trying to bend the rules in Pasco.
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In the first six months of this year, Pasco officials received 13 complaints about tall fences erected in apparent efforts to conceal pot plants from public view.
City code says fences can be no more than six feet tall.
“When we see a 12-foot high fence, the top half of which is a blue tarp, you kind of figure out what it is,” said Rick White, Pasco’s community and economic development director. “We just tell them to take down the fence.”
Now the city has a little more leverage to issue civil penalties against people who allow their marijuana plants and products to be seen or smelled from an adjacent public right-of-way or private property.
It really does smell, and it could significantly impact your enjoyment of your back yard or your neighborhood.
Councilwoman Rebecca Francik
The Pasco City Council voted unanimously on July 5 to amend the municipal code so marijuana nuisances will be included.
The code now conforms with state law, so the city has a way to enforce the provisions if there is a problem, White said.
That could include people whose pot smoke travels from their back patio into a neighboring yard, and “a reasonable person would ascertain that such activities are taking place,” according to the nuisance code.
The city has heard from one or two people who said the burning smell made them sick.
However, White acknowledges that unless a police officer is right there, a smoke complaint is almost impossible to follow up on from a code enforcement standpoint.
By the time the city receives the complaint and can send a code enforcement officer out to investigate, a couple of days likely will have passed and “the odor is gone and so is the smoker,” he said.
The bigger issue here is the outdoor grows and the “bad” smell from the live plants.
Councilwoman Rebecca Francik said she was glad they were addressing the nuisance aspect of marijuana grows.
“One of the reasons I was in favor of legalizing marijuana was so that we could zone it where it would be out of people’s olfactory range,” Francik told her fellow council members.
“This product — if you’ve ever gone through a legal grow — it really does smell, and it could significantly impact your enjoyment of your back yard or your neighborhood, so I would support this,” she said.
The council opened up the issue for public comment at its June 27 meeting, but no one spoke.
The passage of Initiative 502 in 2012 legalized the recreational use, sale and taxing of marijuana for those over 21.
Pasco followed two years later with a ban on recreational pot stores and collective gardens in the city limits.
“Pasco’s years of experience since passage of the initiative have clearly indicated a trend, and that is we are experiencing a variety of nuisances related to either recreational use of marijuana that’s outside of the bounds of state law or medical use of marijuana that’s likewise outside the bounds of state law,” White told the council.
When a complaint is logged with the city, staff will visit the site to see if marijuana plants are visible from a public place or adjacent private property or can be smelled. If confirmed, a correction notice will be left with the property owner.
The city will check on the property about one month later and, if there have been no improvements, the owner will get a violation notice and be scheduled for a hearing before the Code Enforcement Board.
The site will be visited a third time just before the hearing to verify if a problem still exists, which will determine the recommendation made to the board, White said.
The property owner can be fined up to $500 and usually will be given a final 10 days to fix the problem.
The process is the same for all established nuisances, like keeping goats and chickens within city limits, unsightly buildings and weeds and grass that create a fire hazard.
Mayor Matt Watkins asked city staff to update the council in six months or one year so they know how the marijuana nuisance amendment is going.