CONCORD -- The question of whether to allow patients to grow medical marijuana outdoors has divided a residential street on the edge of the city and now is headed for a City Council discussion.
Council members Tuesday plan to take public comment before deciding whether the city should continue to allow patients to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes outdoors or move toward banning it citywide.
The issue received little attention until Evelyn Freitas approached the City Council in October, telling officials about a crop of marijuana in the backyard of a home across the street. Freitas said this year's crop was particularly potent, reeked like a "skunk" and posed a risk to safety in the Dana Estates neighborhood.
In the past few weeks, Freitas has dropped off fliers on neighborhood doorsteps warning residents about the problem and the upcoming council meeting. She said last week she is not against medical marijuana but is not convinced her neighbors are following the law.
"It makes me angry that people are taking advantage of this," Freitas said.
But the owner of the home, Chris Olsen, has maintained he has followed all laws and ran an operation that was peaceful and safe for years until a television news crew showed up at his house in October after neighbors invited them. The KTVU report did not identify Olsen or his address, but Olsen said two men broke into his backyard and tried to steal his plants a few days after the news report.
His grow operation is legal under state law, police officials have said.
"There's plenty of bigger and better issues that we could be spending our time on," Olsen, 24, said from his front porch last week.
In 2005, the city banned medical marijuana dispensaries, but the ordinance did not speak to medical marijuana patients and their caregivers growing marijuana inside and outside of homes.
Several California cities have either banned or limited outdoor cultivation, including Clovis, Elk Grove, Moraga, Rocklin and San Diego, plus Fresno, Kings, Lake and Nevada counties. Banning outdoor cultivation could move operations inside homes.
In a report released Thursday, City Attorney Mark Coon pointed to Elk Grove and Moraga -- two cities with strikingly different ordinances -- as examples of what Concord could adopt. Moraga has a broad ban, not allowing any outdoor cultivation or indoor cultivation that is visible from public space.
The more detailed Elk Grove ordinance sets regulations that, among other things, do not allow medical marijuana to be grown within 1,000 feet of schools, child care centers or public parks; set limits on how big enclosed grow structures can be; and require each grower to obtain a permit from the chief of police.
If the council decides to move ahead with banning or limiting medical marijuana cultivation, Coon recommends it consider using the Moraga ordinance.
The issue has split neighbors. Tony Pirak, who lives next door to Olsen, said he isn't bothered by what Olsen is doing and described him as friendly.
"He's made the rounds and made peace offerings with several people who are upset about it," Pirak, 59, said. "The evidence is not there. You don't have people showing up being loud, fist fights, whatever."
Across the street, Michael Bryant remains skeptical. He said he has seen upward of 80 cars come and go from the home in a span of a day and said until the federal government legalizes marijuana for medicinal use, it remains criminal in his eyes.
The council Tuesday has the option to direct Coon to draft an ordinance, refer the matter to a council subcommittee on policy, or take no action. A ban on the growing of medical marijuana outdoors would require environmental and planning commission review.
David DeBolt covers Concord and Clayton. Contact him at 925-943-8048. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.
What: Concord City Council meeting
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: City Hall, 1950 Parkside Drive