How Can I Stop Neighbor From Growing Marijuana in Backyard?

Although several states allow a person to grow marijuana for personal use, their operation should not create a nuisance for neighbors or violate the terms of any such laws.

By , J.D. University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law
Updated 5/14/2021

The fact that smoking marijuana and other cannabis use is now legal in many states has led to a new source of neighbor disputes. Some homeowners are disturbed to see, for example, that a neighbor has large marijuana plants growing in their backyard. Affected homeowners have, for example, expressed concerns that the plants could attract thieves or neighborhood children. They also notice that one can smell the marijuana when it processed and dried, a smell that most find off-putting.

How do you stop a neighbor from growing marijuana?

While it depends on what state you live in, there are likely to be measures you can take to either stop or limit the impact of your neighbor's marijuana-growing operation.

Check Whether Your State's Law Allows Growing Marijuana at All

Several states, such Colorado, Oregon, Montana, and New York, allow a person to grow limited amounts of marijuana for personal use. Washington state allows recreational use of marijuana, while it is not legal to grow one's own there.

If you live in a state that permits people to grow their own marijuana, it could be difficult to get your neighbor to completely stop growing. However, the grow must still comply with state and local law.

In the states that allow "home grows," there are typically limits on the number of plants a person can legally grow: often between four and 12 plants per household. In addition to the total number of plants, some states limit the number of mature plants a person can have at any one time. So, someone might be able to have six plants, but only three mature plants at one time.

If Your State Allows Marijuana Cultivation, Check Requirements for Doing So

In states where it is legal to grow marijuana, it is also ordinarily a requirement that the plants be enclosed and out of public view. In other words, growing marijuana in a front yard garden with no fence would not be legal. However, if it is grown in a locked, fully enclosed area that is out of view from the general public, the home grow is likely legal.

Whether the grow is legal when only the neighbor can see the plants in the grower's backyard is a tougher question. Some local ordinances declare it a violation if neighboring properties can see the plants, despite what the general public can see.

If There's No Other Obvious Violation, Look Into Nuisance Laws

Most cities have adopted nuisance laws, which either encompass all offensive odors or in some cases, specifically declare any marijuana odor (whether from the smoke or the plant itself) to be a nuisance.

The result of these laws is that if the smell of marijuana drifts off the grower's property so that a neighbor can smell it, the grower might be creating a legal nuisance and subject to a citation and maybe even civil liability.

Resolving the Issue With Your Neighbor

Before involving law enforcement or the legal system, you might try to resolve the dispute informally. In cases like this, a first step might be to casually bring up your concern next time you see your neighbor. By being nonconfrontational, you might find your neighbor is unaware he is doing anything offensive and that he would willingly build an enclosure or move his plants to a less visible and more secure location (after all, it is to his advantage to protect his crop from thieves).

Community mediation is another relatively informal means of resolving neighbor disputes.

If your neighbor refuses to create an enclosure and secure his plants per any legal requirements, you might need to call law enforcement. It might be worth warning your neighbor first that if nothing changes, you will call the police. A threat from the police to issue a citation could be enough to get your neighbor to make the necessary changes.

If you do end up calling the police, don't use the emergency phone number unless the situation really does present some urgent, immediate danger.

If All Else Fails, a Lawsuit Could Be an Option

It is possible, although perhaps unlikely, that the neighbor's growing operation could provide the basis for a civil lawsuit. This might be a stretch, especially if your neighbor is in compliance with the law. However, if the odor is bad enough to be considered a nuisance, or the plants are leading to crime in your neighborhood, you should talk to a lawyer about possibly pursuing a civil claim against your neighbor.

Legal marijuana presents a number of new issues that are still being worked out by lawmakers and judges. As a result, the laws continue to evolve. A local attorney familiar with the laws and recent changes can help you determine what your rights are and the best way to stop your neighbor's marijuana grow.

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