Why LA County banned medical marijuana growing

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Los Angeles County Supervisors voted Tuesday to temporarily ban all growing and cultivation of medical marijuana in the unincorporated areas of the county, effective immediately.

Until now, medical marijuana cultivation has existed in a legal grey area in the county – not specifically allowed under zoning rules but not banned either. It has also been illegal under federal law.

However, changes at the state level compelled the supervisors to explicitly ban growing. Last October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that will allow the state's medical marijuana growers to turn a profit beginning in 2018. A ballot proposal to make recreational pot legal is also gathering signatures, and could be approved by voters in November. 

As a result, entrepreneurs want to get in on the possible riches; Los Angeles County has been getting a lot calls from people who want to grow weed in the unincorporated areas, according to a staff report that recommended a temporary ban.

The 45-day ban can be extended up to two years. What happens after that could depend on the results of a study, commissioned by the supervisors, to look at growing’s effects on the community – as well as possible environmental impacts.

“They’d look at pesticide use, water, electricity and grading of land,” said Sari Steele, a lawyer for the county who worked on the ordinance.

Ultimately though, what supervisors decide could depend less on the study and more on who gets elected to the board later this year. Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe are leaving their posts due to term limits. When they do, the five-member board is expected to be dominated by liberals.

This is not the first time the board has taken on medical marijuana. Last month, supervisors voted to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas. 

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