Jim Ciaffoni: Why six plants? | TheUnion.com

Jim Ciaffoni: Why six plants?

Other Voices
Jim Ciaffoni

Among all the complicating factors in search of a rational approach in crafting a local marijuana cultivation ordinance, none approaches the convention of allowing the arbitrary number of six plants for recreational grows.

Is there anyone involved in local rule-making, currently the board of supervisors, who is willing to think outside the box on this question?

The choice of the limit number is important, because of the role it plays in finding an acceptable solution to the diverse concerns expressed by the "general" citizenry. By "general" citizenry, I am excluding those who are currently making a bundle by growing marijuana, and those who are dead-set against any form of marijuana activity for political or religious reasons, both parties, because of their unyielding self-interest or completely intractable positions, respectively, have failed to resolve this issue.

California initiated this arbitrary standard of six plants prior to, or as part of, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. Clearly, if the choice of six had any basis at all, it was in reference to medicinal use and the average potency of plants commonly available at that time, which has greatly increased since. Subsequently, other states and localities mindlessly followed suit.

I believe a smaller number is warranted, and finally we are seeing some jurisdictions in agreement. The State of Oregon first stepped outside the mold in 2015 by allowing four plants per household for recreational use.

Currently, legislators in Maine are considering lowering their threshold from six to three plants. Proponents point out how ridiculously in excess of reasonable personal use six plants will provide, and how the surplus will feed the black market, exacerbating crime associated with unregulated, large profits. Incredibly, opponents justify the choice of six plants by pointing to six as the limit for medicinal grows in Maine, as if the two maintain any logical relationship, and even more absurdly, because "It makes it easy for Joe Six-Pack to understand."

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To cite a more rational objection, one opponent notes the difficulties in growing in such a northerly climate, and the possible need to grow, in one season, for multiple years' usage. However, this is hardly a solid claim in our Mediterranean climate, considering the possibility of multiple crops per season through advanced growing techniques.

So, what should the limit number be?

Well, let's consider how we administer the home production of alcohol. In California, an individual can make 100 gallons of both beer and wine, about three cans of beer and six glasses of wine per person per day, which is obviously enough to drink reasonably and have a sizable surplus to sell, if the potential profit warrants doing that.

However, and this is the point, even if you don't drink any of it and sell it all, it would only gross less than $10,000, hardly worth the cost and risk of operating a brewery out of your home. It's questionable if anyone would pay anything at all for homemade booze with no quality control. In other words, an amount has been allowed that is plenty for reasonable use, but not enough to entice someone to "go into the business."

Not so with six high-grade marijuana plants. Conservatively figuring two pounds per plant and $2,000 per pound, figures cited by both the industry and the Sheriff's Department, a grower could easily gross $24,000, and this is with only one crop per year! Meanwhile, just one pound would keep someone completely stoned around the clock for the entire year.

The six-plant allowance is obviously set too high to discourage drug-dealing and nefarious black market behavior, while providing greatly in excess of reasonable, recreational use.

A lower plant limit, say two or three at most, would lessen the odor nuisance, and might allow consideration of smaller, residential zoned parcels.

The Adult Use Marijuana Act allows local governments to "reasonably" regulate recreational grows. How "reasonable" is defined will have to be settled in the courts. What could be more reasonable that to recognize and react to the great disconnect outlined above?

Please ask your elected officials to break out of the "Joe Six-Pack" mold and support the use of public funds if necessary for legal expenses, hopefully in cooperation with other cities and counties, to include a reduced plant count in the legal definition of "reasonable," and to bring some sanity to this subject.

All of this seems so obvious to me, but if nobody agrees with me, maybe I'll just go get a six-pack and think about it.

Jim Ciaffoni is a semi-retired public utilities manager who lives in Nevada City.