Brentwood: City to charge for each illegal cannabis plant to try and combat grow houses

BRENTWOOD — It just got a lot more expensive if you are caught illegally growing marijuana inside a home in Brentwood.

On Tuesday, the City Council clarified its rules on growing marijuana beyond the legal six-plant limit inside a personal residence. As a result of the action, adiminstrative citations may be issued for each plant being grown beyond the limit.

Current citations are $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second and $500 for the third and subsequent violation, but now each plant will be considered a separate violation.

The city has seen an increased number of illegal grows inside homes in the past year, Code Enforcement Supervisor Roberta Portillo-Bienemann told the council. The new rules would give code enforcement additional tools to stem the illegal cultivation, she said.

Nearby in Antioch where several legal dispensaries operate, the city does not have such regulations on its books for marijuana cultivation in personal residences. Antioch Interim Police Chief Steve Ford said in the city hasn’t seen any grow houses — which often come with illegal wiring and unpermitted construction — in the last year though an illegal warehouse grow operation was discovered months ago and code enforcement officers imposed sanctions and the plants were destroyed.

“As crazy as it sounds, I’d like to think that that (the availability of dispensaries) has helped to mitigate the need for people to want to try and erect a weed house or weed grow because they don’t have to do that,” Ford said while noting black market sales, though, are still present.

Brentwood has regulated marijuana cultivation inside homes since 2017, when it incorporated state law into its municipal code, she said. In some large-scale operations, plants have numbered in the hundreds or thousands, posing health and safety risks to people and property, and the grow houses are likely part of larger criminal networks, she said.

“This illegal cultivation is extremely profitable, making deterring this activity difficult,” she said.

Brentwood’s community enrichment staff routinely finds unsafe and unpermitted electrical wiring, as well as other unpermitted construction, including natural gas lines, HVAC systems, and new walls and rooms inside grow homes, Portillo-Bienemann said. Extensive mold is also often found, she added.

“This activity involves numerous code violations and negatively affects the quality of life, as well as property values for the surrounding neighborhood,” Portillo-Bienemann said.

When such large-scale grows inside homes are found, a contractor is hired to demolish the unpermitted construction and test for mold to identify what work will be needed to get a house back up to code, she said.

Typical illegal grows have up to eight to 10 violations, Portillo-Bienemann said, but the new rules would add more, depending on the number of plants found.

Though the city could issue fines per plant per day, Portillo-Bienemann said it usually gives the offender five to seven days to appeal the citation.

“In order to give an individual their due process, right and their ability to appeal that citation, if they choose to do so, we issue the administrative fines on a weekly basis,” she said. “It is hoped these revisions will increase the city’s code enforcement capabilities and deter illegal marijuana cultivation.’’

If the property owner is unable to pay the fine, it would go to collections and there could be a lien against the property, the code enforcement supervisor added.

Resident Rod Flohr said he thought toughening up the rules was a “great idea.”

“I hope that people understand this is not about restricting people’s rights to something that they have a right to have; this is about protecting home values,” he said. “There’s fire danger alone from these grow houses and there’s destruction of property. As we’re hearing a lot of times, it’s a rental and you know the value of that property. When a person owns a rental, it’s an investment and the value of that investment goes to zero.”

“I’m also wanting to point out that for anybody that’s worried about whether this might be impinging on anybody’s rights, the people who are legitimately doing business in cannabis are getting eaten alive,” he added. “Because their taxes and their costs, having to maintain a storefront – and the (illegal) street vendors are just killing them. And that has to stop.”

Mayor Joel Bryant also said he supported the new rules.

“Having seen some of these grow houses in our community, not only is there immediate danger to the neighboring houses of fire and there are health concerns from the mold, but there also have been some violent interactions from criminal activity,” he said. “Not only from the growers but people that are criminals that found out that that grow house was there.”

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