What’s That Smell? NY Times

What’s That Smell? NY Times

Today, we’ve got a potent story from San Francisco bureau chief Thomas Fuller:

A decade ago Marie and Surinder Uppal fulfilled what they considered their American dream: the construction of a two-story home next to vineyards in Sonoma County.

But earlier this year, besieged by a mysterious, pungent odor, they wondered if they had made the right decision.

“We said, ‘What the heck is that smell?’” Ms. Uppal said. “We couldn’t figure out what it was. The stench was very bad, stronger than a skunk.”

The Uppals are among hundreds of people across California who have showed up at town hall meetings, petitioned city councils and hired lawyers to fight an unanticipated consequence of marijuana legalization: the stink from pot farms across the state.

Those affected by the smell say it is much more potent than the pot cloud above a Grateful Dead concert or the medicinal smell of a cannabis dispensary.

In the case of the Uppal family, the cannabis was being grown in greenhouses nestled in the vineyard several hundred feet away. One member of the Uppal family with muscular dystrophy, Jiwan, had trouble breathing and was admitted to the intensive care unit of a hospital.

“The smell was so bad we couldn’t even go outside,” Ms. Uppal said.

The smell stretched to the nearby Old Adobe Elementary Charter School, where children playing outside asked what the odor was, according to the school’s principal, Jeff Williamson.

“Some parents were really upset about it,” Mr. Williamson said.

With three other families in the neighborhood, the Uppals sued the pot grower, Carlos Zambrano, who was found to be operating without a license, according to the Uppals’ lawyer, Kevin Block.

The Uppals and their neighbors sued in federal court under the RICO Act — the decades-old law designed to prosecute organized crime — to stop the cannabis operation and recover $60,000 they paid in legal fees so far. The court will hear a motion to dismiss the case on Thursday.

Under a settlement agreement with the county, the grower was ordered to pay more than $400,000 in fines and back taxes. But the settlement came with a twist that puzzled the Uppals: He was allowed to harvest and sell his crop in part so that he could pay the fines.

“I told my husband, ‘We are in the wrong business,’” Ms. Uppal said.

Read more about the stink that is outraging Californians here.

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