"Ooh, that smell. Can’t you smell that smell?" ~ Lynyrd Skynyrd
For the Southern rock group’s famous tune, it was the "smell of death."
But in more and more north state neighborhoods, "that smell" is marijuana plants in the fall.
The plant provides needed medicine for some, relaxation and pleasure for others, and a source of aggravation for still others who don’t like its powerful scent just before harvest.
The odor issue has surfaced many times in the past few months, and was the subject of a recent Garden Tract neighborhood meeting in Redding. Speaking at the meeting was city code enforcement expert Debra Wright, who said she responded to an average of three gardens a week over the past two months — many because of smell complaints.
Marijuana plants growing outdoors.
In the Garden Tract, a woman said she lost nearly two months’ of time she would have spent outside because of the powerful "skunky" smell of a neighbor’s grow.
"It was beyond-belief aggravating," the woman said, preferring not to be named for this piece. "It was the best time of year and I had to stay inside with my windows and doors shut. I just don’t think it should be allowed in the city when people have such tight lots."
The woman said she knows some need marijuana and even took Marinol herself when she was undergoing chemotherapy treatments. But she says she could smell the plants all the way down the block at times and literally was looking for skunks before discovering the true origin of the smell.
"When my friends found out it was marijuana, everybody was laughing at me," she said. "But I don’t want to go through another year like that."
By now, most outdoor marijuana plants have already been harvested. Growers began pulling their plants in prior to the first series of robust rains that hit the region.
Still, it’s an issue that looms over future years and something that evades an easy solution, regardless of the failing of Prop 19 in California for full legalization. Redding Senior City Planner Kent Manuel, speaking at the Garden Tract meeting, reviewed Redding’s current regulations about medical marijuana for the neighbors.
"We have noise meters, but unfortunately we don’t have smell meters," Manuel said.
Under current city regulations, a patient with a medical marijuana recommendation may grow pot within a 100-square-foot canopy space. However, that can expand to 300 square feet if a resident grows for a maximum of three people with legal recommendations on the property.
There are also limits on height (15 feet) and proximity to a neighbor’s home (must be at least 30 feet away). But a grower could be well under the limits and the smell could still dominate the area.
One Redding medical marijuana grower said the issue is difficult, because there are all sorts of smells in neighborhoods that people may or may not like.
"I think it becomes what’s a greater good versus a greater evil," said the grower, who asked to remain anonymous because of past thefts of plants at her property. "We’re talking about something that’s non toxic. I can empathize to a degree (with those who don’t like the smell), but it’s also a matter of having to put up with it for about four weeks a year versus someone maybe not having medicine for a year.
"If you took away their ability to grow and forced them to buy, it could be an undue hardship. If you think about a cancer patient and a year of pain versus having medicine, well, you have to weigh the relative good."
If a grower violates the current city regulations they can be fined, however, it’s likely those fines could be contested under current state law.
Wright said that in general, growers have been largely cooperative when she’s visited them.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. However, the Obama administration said it would not enforce power over states that had passed medical marijuana amendments.
In Redding, there are about 18 medical marijuana collectives in business, so plenty of people are still buying cannabis – and perhaps growing as well. The Redding Police Department oversees enforcement on collectives.
The large volume grown this season has sent prices plunging this year, says one Redding medical marijuana grower. Prices have dropped to as low as $800 a pound locally and around $1,500 a pound in Southern California, as the state is flush with harvested marijuana.
"But (in general) the cat’s out of the bag that it’s not the devil weed they said it was," the grower said. "Even those who say it is know that it isn’t."
The ever-changing law makes issues like inspecting and regulating medical marijuana gardens difficult for Redding city code enforcement. Upcoming legislation in the city of Anaheim (which has banned marijuana collectives) and other upcoming cases could shape how cities proceed with the issue.
Wright said she’ll soon be sending out letters that clearly state the city’s current guidelines for marijuana cultivation to about 90 residents.
Another Redding grower said there could be a solution (or at least improvement) in terms of smell in small lot neighborhoods. There are currently strains of marijuana that are much less pungent than the heavily skunky-smelling strains. The less pungent strains are still plenty potent, the grower said.
"If a neighbor complains, that seems to be a reasonable way to go at it," he said.
Jim Dyar is a news, arts and entertainment journalist for A News Cafe and the former arts and entertainment editor for the Record Searchlight’s D.A.T.E. section. Jim is also a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com