Santa Clara County Poised to Vote on New Marijuana Rules

For the past year, Santa Clara County has been fine-tuning a regional marijuana ordinance to fill regulatory gaps between San Jose’s new local laws and anticipated statewide legalization in 2016.

On Tuesday, at its first meeting after summer recess, the Board of Supervisors will vote on the proposed rules.

The ordinance would keep an existing ban on outdoor cultivation in unincorporated areas, except for home grows by qualified patients and caregivers—only with a landlord’s permission. Cultivation would have to be either in one room indoors or limited to 12 plants outdoors and out of sight from nearby properties. Lights would be limited to 1,200 watts.

“These regulations would help mitigate many of the harms experienced by residents living near illegal grows,” County Executive Jeff Smith wrote in a memo. “First, they ensure that personal cultivation does not exceed a limited amount, which prevents diversion of excess marijuana to unlawful purposes, and reduces the risk of criminal activity, such as home invasions.”

Secondly, he continued, they would limit public nuisance, including odors, fire risks, crime and environmental harm from pesticides and water use.

“Reasonably limiting grows in these ways will balance the county’s interest in reducing these harms with patients’ need to cultivate for their medical use,” Smith wrote.

The ordinance would be enforced based on complaints fielded by various agencies. For minor violations, the county would give notice and time for a patient to come up to code. For major violations that threaten health, safety or the environment, the county would reserve the right to take action, including removing plants and shutting down operations.

A year ago, supervisors outlawed pot cultivation from unincorporated areas. The ban came a month after San Jose voted in its new regulatory ordinance restricting pot clubs from all but 1 percent of the city. County officials feared the local rules would push cultivation to their jurisdiction, so they prohibited it altogether.

Meanwhile, the county worked out a plan to augment San Jose’s regulatory efforts by creating guidelines on food safety, weights and measures and pesticide use.

The county’s Department of Agriculture and Environmental Management came up with rules about pesticide use. The Weights and Measures began oversight of scales and barcode scanners. The Department of Environmental Health drafted regulations on the purity of edibles.

Earlier this year, various county divisions began reaching out to collectives to brief them on the proposed rules for commercial kitchens and food production. In May, the county shared its draft ordinance regulating cultivation by patients and caregivers. Residents raised concerns about grow lights, setbacks from parks and criminals working in cultivation.

Throughout the process, the county continued a multi-department crackdown on cultivation, dismantling illegal grows in unincorporated hillsides. Over the summer, the Sheriff’s Office seized a grow of 7,500 plants—an estimated $16 million street value—at Alum Rock Park.

The U.S. Attorney General’s Office in 2013 advised states that had legalized medical marijuana to come up with “sufficiently robust” enforcement efforts to keep the feds off their back.

While California legalized pot for medicinal use in 1996 and for personal cultivation in 2003, the state still lacks an overarching regulatory framework. Local jurisdictions have had to issue their own rules to govern the industry by land-use, taxation, permitting and police oversight.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which complicates several issues for local regulation. Banks often won’t work with collectives, limiting them to cash-only transactions. And the Environmental Protection Agency won’t approve chemicals for marijuana cultivation, which has resulted in unchecked pesticide use.

Cities and counties that haven’t already enacted rules have quickened their efforts, in part because of AB 243, a state bill introduced by Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) that would grandfather in local laws.

San Jose has extended the deadline for collectives to comply with its own ordinance to Dec. 18. To date, only 20 clubs remain in the running to continue operations. At the outset of the city's regulatory program, San Jose counted about 80 collectives. Most were immediately ruled out by the new zoning restrictions. Here's a list of collectives still going through the registration process.

More from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agenda for August 11, 2015:

  • Supervisor Cindy Chavez urges the county to join other cities and community groups in opposing the Philips 66 railroad expansion in San Luis Obispo. The project would bring about 250 more oil trails from the port of Oakland through Milpitas, San Jose, Morgan Hill and Gilroy. An alternate route would send them down the Caltrain line from Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara. “This would significantly increase traffic delays at the rail crossings, increase air pollution and heighten the potential for hazardous waste accidents,” Chavez wrote in her memo.
  • Some 9,000 county workers will see a 13.5 percent wage increase over the next four years, according to a deal approved by the Service Employees International Union Local 521 (SEIU Local 531). Supervisors on Tuesday will vote to ratify the agreement, which also provides for no increases to pension or healthcare contributions.
  • The county has been looking for state funding to help pay for a new Main Jail. Projected costs of a new facility have come to $243 million, excluding furniture, fixtures and equipment. That’s much higher than original estimates from earlier this year that set the cost at $80 million. A conceptual plan being shopped to the state proposes a 325,000-square-foot jail that’s about 15 stories high—nearly two-and-a-half times the size of the existing 1950s-era jail on Hedding Street in San Jose. The new building would address the changing nature of jail populations after state prison reform pushed more inmates into local custody.

WHAT: Board of Supervisors meets
WHEN: 9am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: Clerk of the Board, 408.299.5001

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. I don’t understand the outdoor restriction. My family grew fruit for many years outdoors, with the bugs, with the smog, with all the other stuff that floats around. Everyday people eat food grown outdoors.

  2. This incredible patchwork of marijuana rules and regulations, state by state, county by county, and even city by city is as utterly ridiculous as the patchwork of liquor regulations in this country. Normally, I am a firm believer in states’ rights and local control, but this is ridiculous. Every politician with an axe to grind or a large campaign donor to mollify is weighing in on a subject that should have uniform controls. Sadly, the federal government’s position on MJ is beyond absurd, so we are stuck with myriad local rules and regulations that no-one can keep up with.

    • The one area that I concede a legitimate role for Big Government is drug regulation.

      The nature of drugs (i.e. “pharmaceuticals”) is that they are potentially VERY dangerous and dangerous in enormously varied, complex, and insidious ways.

      People learned painful and costly lessons from the unregulated sale of “patent medicines” by all sorts of charlatans and snake oil salesmen who had NO IDEA of the physiological consequences of the stuff they were selling.

      There are abundant horror stories:

      Elixir sulfanaliamde (
      Thalidomide (
      etc. etc.

      Authoritative and (mostly) dispassionate scientific examination of drug effects and consequences saves lives and prevents mass casualties. But it is enormously difficult and expensive.

      It is something that the national government is probably uniquely capable of organizing, managing and funding, in a responsible and accountable way.

      It is hard to conceive of an effective “libertarian” approach to drug regulation, especially in a non-libertarian society.

      Libertarians may be happy to take responsibility for what they put in their bodies, but how do libertarians make whole the children of mothers who took thalidomide, who had no idea of the side effects of the drug?

      Drug regulation (including “recreational drugs” and ESPECIALLY medicinal drugs) is properly and rationally best address by the institution that has the greatest scientific and technical resources and broadest authority.

      The whole idea of every municipality having its own drug regulatory apparatus is absurd.

  3. As this stuff is as bad for you as cigarettes and maybe worse, shouldn’t the rules be as bad or worse?
    Just a thought……….It’s a death sentence in New York for selling a cigarette with out a tax stamp.

    • I agree. I helped San Jose’s processes along by recommending a look at alcohol and pharmacy laws. Some major points were adopted. I think San Jose can sleep a little easier at night knowing wife beaters, child abusers, and all sorts of violent scum can’t play here. I was glad to play my part in that.

  4. The alum rock bust was from illegal Mexican cartel not medical marijuana how sad news never gets anything right….how much was value of the 7500 plants ?????Not 16 million maybe I should be reporting true facts

    • A cartel is a cartel is a cartel…a cartel by any other name is a cartel. Mexican cartel , medical marijuana cartel…they are just cartels…