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Don't ask the master gardeners for advice on growing pot

September 1, 2010 |  9:54 am

One of the mandates of the UC Extension Master Gardener program that I joined and blogged about earlier this year is that we share our newly acquired knowledge and offer gardening advice to our communities. One noteworthy exception: marijuana. It is the one plant for which we can’t offer advice -- not for growing, propagation or problem diagnosis. 

That definitive word came down last week from Pam Geisel, the statewide master gardener coordinator at UC Davis. She was passing along instructions from the office of the general counsel of the UC Regents (who oversee the master gardener and community garden programs) via their agricultural and natural resources division.

ANR policy prohibits any services “directly associated with the plant,” read the directive.

Even though medical marijuana is legal in California, and some “UCCE clientele might object” if we refuse to give advice, UC agents must remain silent when it comes to pot. A request for additional clarification has gone back to the Regents' general counsel, especially in light of the upcoming election, but “that policy will almost certainly say that we do not provide services for marijuana,” Geisel concluded.

It’s a bit of a nonissue for master gardeners locally. Yvonne Savio, who heads the program here in Los Angeles, told me she knew of only one telephone query to the Master Gardener phone helpline (323- 260-3238) or to mglosangeleshelpline@ucdavis.edu. And that was a few years ago.

Savio related the call: "The caller asked about growing a ‘grass,’ but when our MG suggested growing a drought-tolerant variety, the caller specified, ‘No, I mean marijuana’ to which our MG replied, 'No, I’m sorry, I can’t respond to that.'”

And just as master gardeners can’t advise on marijuana, community gardens — where many master gardeners work as volunteer advisors -- cannot provide real estate. Even if the grower has a permit to grow, community gardens are zero-tolerance spaces, Al Renner, the executive director of the Los Angeles Garden Council, told me at Solano Community Garden, a secret four-acre jewel of a garden on a slope right next to the 1941 tunnel on the 110.
“It’s hard to tell somebody to pull out what they consider medicine but we have rules. [And even then] kids go into the gardens at night and smoke and throw their seeds out, knowing they’re going to be watered. Sometimes they come back to me asking ‘Mr. Renner. Did any of those seeds I planted come up?’”

-- Jeff Spurrier

Photo: Medical marijuana for sale at a dispensary. Credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times