The following summary of Sacramento County cannabis laws is for informational purposes only. If you need legal advice, consult an attorney.
The history of Sacramento County cannabis laws is complex and contentious, but the current state of the law is rather simple: If it’s a land use involving cannabis, it’s illegal in Sacramento County. The effective language is found in Title 1, Chapter 1, of the Sacramento County Zoning Code:
101-14. Consistency with State and Federal Law
Notwithstanding any other provision of the Zoning Code, any land use, activity or establishment that contravenes either state or federal law, or both, is prohibited.
This type of ordinance gets its teeth from the federal Controlled Substances Act, which doesn’t provide exemptions for patients in medical cannabis states. In this respect, it varies from latter-day dispensary bans and cultivation ordinances found in other cities and counties in California, which typically address such activities by way of nuisance laws. Appellate court rulings including San Diego v. NORML et al (2008) cast doubt on state and local laws that purport to enforce federal drug laws. The final nail in the coffin of that legal theory was handed down in 2010 in Qualified Patients v. Anaheim, but that doesn’t mean Sacramento County got the memo.
Because the Sacramento County ordinance relies solely on the federal prohibition of cannabis to give it force and effect, it apparently doesn’t carve out exceptions for any type of cannabis possession, cultivation or distribution. Presumably, a qualified patient in Sacramento County can’t grow any amount of cannabis — indoors or outdoors — without violating the county ordinance, because such conduct is prohibited by federal law. Dispensaries? They’re prohibited, too. Theoretically, residents could be cited for simply possessing cannabis in their own homes.
That’s not likely to happen, so don’t freak out just yet. But the county is bound to enforce its ordinance whenever it feels the need to do so, and penalties for violations can include fines and misdemeanor charges.
Sacramento County cannabis enforcement
Enforcement of Sacramento County cannabis laws is complaint-driven, at least on paper. (For more info, see this Code Enforcement page.) These procedures are found in Title 1, Chapter 15, of the Sacramento County Zoning Code:
ARTICLE 1: ENFORCEMENT
115-01. Administrative Official
This Code shall be enforced by the Director of the Department of Community Development or his or her successor. The Director may be provided with the assistance of such other persons as he or she may designate. If the Director shall find that any provision of this Code is being violated, the Director shall notify in writing the person responsible for such violation indicating the nature of the violation and ordering the action necessary to enforce it. Any provision which confers authority on the Planning Director, the Director of Neighborhood Services Department, the Director of the Department of Planning and Community Development, the Director of Community Development, or the Director of Building and Code Enforcement shall instead be deemed to confer such authority to the Director of Community Development or his or her successor.
115-03. Complaints Regarding Violation
Whenever a violation of this Code occurs or is alleged to have occurred, any person may file a written complaint, stating fully the causes and basis thereof, with the Director. The Director shall record such complaint, investigate, and take such action thereon as provided by this Code as he deems appropriate.
The Director and authorized representative may upon the presentation of credentials to the occupant or owner enter any premises, building, or structure at any reasonable time for the purpose of investigating and inspecting said premises, building, or structure to determine if the same are being used in compliance with the provisions of this Code. If admission or entry is refused, the Director may apply to the County Counsel to obtain an inspection warrant.
115-05. Void Permits
Officers and employees of the County vested with the duty or authority to issue permits or licenses shall conform to the provisions of this Code. Any permit or license which would purport to authorize the permittee or licensee to erect, alter, or enlarge any building or structure or to use property in any manner in conflict with the provisions of this Code, intentionally or otherwise, shall be null and void.
115-06. Building Permits
All applicants for building permits or other permits shall meet the filing and processing requirements established in the Uniform Building Code, and other Uniform Codes adopted by the County in addition to meeting the requirements of this Code.
Violation of the provisions of this Code or failure to comply with any of its requirements (including violations of conditions and requirements established in connection with zoning agreements, variances, conditional use permits, special development permits, exceptions or other permits granted pursuant to this Code) shall constitute a misdemeanor. Any person, firm, or corporation whether as principal, agent, employee or otherwise who violates this Code or fails to comply with any of its requirements shall upon conviction thereof be fined not more than $500 or imprisoned for not more than six (6) months in the County Jail, or both. Each day such violation continues shall be considered a separate offense. The owner or tenant of any building, structure, premises, or part thereof, and any architect, builder, contractor, agent, or other person who commits, participates in, assists, or maintains such violation may each be found guilty of a separate offense and suffer the penalties herein provided.
Federal crackdown prompts change in approach
Months before passage of the current ordinance in December 2011, Sacramento County planners prepared a comprehensive ordinance governing medical cannabis dispensaries and home cultivation by patients. The term “comprehensive” is not synonymous with “permissive,” however. The draft version of Sacramento County’s interim medical marijuana ordinance banned all types of collectives and dispensaries. Individual patients could only grow their plants inside homes or accessory structures subject to several restrictions, including registration with the county. Here’s a summary:
After extensive public testimony, the Board of Supervisors decided not to adopt the proposed urgency ordinance in June, instead asking staff to bring back options for a permanent ordinance. County planning staff held three “round table” sessions to receive input from dispensary operators and other stakeholders. Additional board discussion of medical cannabis regulations, including the potential costs of code enforcement, took place July and August of 2011.
In October 2011, the four U.S. Attorneys in California launched a new offensive against medical cannabis dispensaries and collectives. That prompted the county to abandon its previous attempts to draft comprehensive regulations, resulting in the board’s passage of the ban on cannabis dispensaries and cultivation.