Fontana is on the hook for $106,916 in legal fees after a judge ruled in favor of a resident who argued that the city’s restrictive policy for people who want to grow cannabis at home violated California law.
The city was expected to appeal the ruling, which was the first legal test of how far California cities can go in restricting residents’ newfound freedom to cultivate their own marijuana. Instead, Fontana let the timeline to protest the decision run out.
Now, on the judge’s orders, city officials are drafting a new ordinance for marijuana growers. A revised policy is tentatively scheduled for a vote at the Feb. 26 City Council meeting, according to city spokeswoman Martha Guzman-Hurtado.
“It is a win,” said Mike Harris, the Fontana resident who sued the city with help from the American Civil Liberties Union of California and the Drug Policy Alliance.
The lawsuit was over a city ordinance approved in January 2017 in response to Proposition 64. The ballot measure legalized recreational cannabis California. It also gave every Californian 21 or older a right to cultivate up to six marijuana plants for personal use.
But the law says cities or counties can ban outdoor gardens and “reasonably regulate” indoor grows. And a growing number of cities have instituted rules for in-home cultivation that test the limits of what’s considered “reasonable.”
Fontana’s policy required residents who wanted to cultivate marijuana at home to first get a $411 permit from the city. They also had to pay for background checks, they couldn’t have overdue city fees, renters had to get a notarized OK from their landlords and growers had to agree to allow city officials to inspect their homes.
In November, San Bernardino Superior Court Judge David Cohn ruled “the city of Fontana has gone too far.” He struck down major portions of the ordinance, including the $411 fee. And he ordered the city to revise the policy so it didn’t include such restrictive mandates.
On Wednesday, Feb. 6, Cohn ruled Harris is entitled to $106,916 in legal fees, which all are expected to be donated to the ACLU and Drug Policy Alliance. Tamar Todd, senior director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said Monday that a final order to pay the fees still has to be settled in court.
“It’s a real shame that the city brought this on themselves and then had to charge the taxpayer for their hubris,” Harris said.
He admits he actually hoped Fontana would appeal the ruling since, if they won at that level, the case could set precedent for the entire state.
As it stands, attorneys can cite the Fontana ruling in their own suits. Harris already heard that happening as he sat in Wednesday on a case filed against the city of Colton over its marijuana permitting system. And Todd said other cities are expected to take note of the ruling when drafting home cultivation policies.