January 3, 2019

Opinion: Growing a Little Cannabis Requires Getting Political

Lanny Swerdlow is a registered nurse and legal nurse consultant. He is the founder and chairperson of the Brownie Mary Democrats of California which is one of seven statewide Democratic organizations chartered by the California Democratic Party and works within the Democratic Party to ensure full and complete implementation of Proposition 64.

Leafly welcomes op-ed contributions from industry and political leaders on a range of topics related to cannabis.


With legalization in 2016, we won the war on cannabis in California. But winning the peace might be harder, and consumers must get more politically involved in 2019.

This is critical at the local level if you want to have a dispensary in your town, participate in the industry, or even grow a single personal plant. That’s because how legalization laws are implemented are up to local officials. Just look at the issue of home-growing.

Personal Grow Rights In Danger

Medical marijuana law confers no right to grow cannabis in California, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

“... to overcome 80 years of reefer madness legislation, consumers need to develop the political clout to successfully implement their hard-won rights ...”

Lanny Swerdlow, chairperson, Brownie Mary Democrats of California

But Proposition 64, also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) legalized the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana for everyone 21 and older.

The few growing restrictions in AUMA include rules that a person must be at least 21 years old, grow no more than six plants at a time, and that gardening must happen on private property in an “enclosed, locked area not visible to the public.”

It’s an amazing law. Cannabis is free like never before.

Under AUMA, local governments can, however, “enact and enforce reasonable regulations to reasonably regulate the actions and conduct” of pot gardening.

In response, local governments have passed new rules that probably cross the line of what’s “reasonable” is in the eyes of the voters and courts.

Cities Try Grow Bans In All But Name

This disagreement came to a head in the medium-sized southern California city of Fontana. Fontana’s indoor personal cultivation ordinance made it a misdemeanor to grow six plants at home without a permit. Fontana also required:

  • a separate room for growing cannabis
  • fingerprinting and background checks
  • a clear record of no felony drug convictions within the previous five years
  • And home inspections by city officials and a permitting fee itself.

No one has gotten a personal cultivation permit in Fontana.

Consumers Win in Court

In response, the Drug Policy Alliance, the ACLU, and the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers sued Fontana on behalf of Fontana resident and potential cultivator Michael Harris. On Nov. 9, Harris won.

Ruling that, “The city of Fontana has gone too far,” Superior Court Judge David Cohn concluded Fontana had run afoul of AUMA’s requirement that regulations be “reasonable.”

Judge Cohn found that Fontana’s ordinance “imposes onerous restrictions that bear little or no relationship to the activity supposedly being regulated.” He said Fontana’s regulations were  “arbitrary and capricious, because they disallow certain persons from doing what state law specifically allows them to do.”

Judge Cohn’s ruling only covers the city of Fontana, and the city could appeal the ruling. But the verdict may have a major impact on municipalities throughout California.

“Cities and counties cannot use local laws to stamp out conduct made legal by the voters of this state,” said Jolene Forman, a staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Overgrow The Government

Reasonable regulations on legal cannabis activity will not come easily. Many elected officials who make the laws to implement AUMA strenuously opposed marijuana legalization.

Upending Fontana’s onerous regulations strengthens AUMA, but to overcome 80 years of reefer madness legislation, consumers need to develop the political clout to successfully implement their hard-won rights to safe, reliable, local and affordable access to cannabis.

That includes starting or joining political groups like the Brownie Mary Democrats of California—one of seven statewide Democratic organizations charted by the California Democratic Party.

You can also support and vote for pro-cannabis local councilmembers, county supervisors, District Attorneys, and sheriffs. It also means potentially running voter referendums or running for office yourself.

The opportunities to engage on this issue are endless and immediate. So be sure to not only exercise, but defend—and advance—your rights to legal cannabis in 2019.

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