LAGUNA WOODS—The Golden Rain Foundation Board voted unanimously to ban Laguna Woods Village residents from growing medical marijuana in community garden centers last week in a closed session meeting.
GRF said, by way of a press release from community manager PCM, its legal counsel Hart, King & Coldren advised against allowing medical marijuana to grow in open garden centers because it could put the community at risk for potential criminal activity.
The GRF Garden Center Advisory Group recommended the ban on growing in community garden plots at a meeting on Jan. 28. That recommendation would have normally gone to the Community Activities Committee (CAC) and then to the GRF Board for a vote in open session. Instead, GRF voted in closed session after its board meeting on Feb. 2 to impose the ban citing advice from legal counsel, according to director and CAC chair Bob Hatch.
“It appears they had already made up their mind,” said Lonnie Painter, director of the Laguna Woods for Medical Cannabis group, and a medical marijuana grower in the garden center.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department told PCM it would not take action if a resident was growing marijuana with a doctor’s prescription. HK&C said in light of law enforcement’s position, GRF should be concerned about safety.
Residents can still grow marijuana for medical use at home or on their own patios if they choose, unless the homeowner’s associations in the community take action.
“You can grow it on your own property,” Hatch said. “But this is community property.”
GRF is a non-profit corporation that oversees recreation facilities in the community including the two garden centers that consist of more than 1,200 plots on eight acres. Painter is currently the only resident with a plot used for growing medical marijuana, but no plants are growing at this time.
“People think it brings the wrong kind of people,” Painter said. “(GRF) is convincing those people it’s a matter of security and it’s not.”
Hatch said the advisory group and the board, acting on the advice of counsel, were concerned about safety on community property if marijuana continues to be grown. He said the garden centers are an exposed area of the community, since the gates are open each day and locked in the evening.
Mike Tucholski, a PCM garden center coordinator for GRF, said thefts are commonplace in the garden centers, and many are suspected to be fellow residents who take produce.
“We didn’t feel it was a proper thing to put the community at risk by doing that,” Hatch said on allowing medical marijuana to be grown.
California law allows patients and caregivers to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal medical purposes with a recommendation from a physician. In September 2008, the City of Laguna Woods was the first in Orange County to allow medical marijuana dispensaries within its boundaries, although to date no dispensaries have opened within the city.
Orange County, like many others in California, allows patients to possess 6 mature marijuana plants or 12 immature plants and 8 ounces of dried marijuana with doctor approval, according to the Americans for Safe Access group.
Hatch said it was not within the GRF Board’s power to oversee how the plants were used, and therefore it needed to impose a ban.
“We don’t have the ability to determine growing for medical use or recreational use,” Hatch said.
All board and committee meetings are open to residents except those designated closed sessions, which are for specific purposes defined by the Davis-Stirling Act.
“To consider litigation, matters relating to the formation of contracts with third parties, member discipline, personnel matters, or to meet with a member, upon the member’s request, regarding the member’s payment of assessment,” according to the Davis-Stirling Act, which is California law that governs cooperative and condominium communities.
Cris Robinson, legal affairs manager for PCM, said the vote on medical marijuana in the garden centers was taken in closed session since there was a potential for litigation and the legal opinion from HK&C was discussed.
HK&C said, by way of a PCM memo, the California Supreme Court has held community associations liable if criminal activity is foreseeable and a board of directors, such as GRF, fails to act to protect members. HK&C also said the harm to residents is highly foreseeable especially in an unsecured public area like the garden centers where marijuana growing has been publicized in the media.
Hatch said residents and medical marijuana users can appeal the decision to the GRF Board, but he was confident in the board’s decision.
“As of right now, they’re not going to get anywhere,” Hatch said.
By CLAIRE WEBB