“Chaos” is how Julia Carrera, consultant to a new medical marijuana trade group, described the state of current marijuana laws.
At a workshop in Laytonville Saturday on the 2014 growing season, Carrera, an inspector for the Small Farmers Association, painted a bleak picture of the contradictory laws and practices related to marijuana.
Most Mendocino County Sheriff’s deputies, for example, follow the county’s medical marijuana farming ordinance, Carrera said at the chilly fundraiser and barbecue in the garden of The Chief restaurant. But, she said, several deputies prefer enforcing the far more stringent federal laws, under which possession of even one seed of marijuana is a violation.
“Two deputies in Mendocino County are in direct communication with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency at all times,” Carrera said.
Some members of the audience referred to “rogue” actions by sheriff’s deputies not under the Sheriff Tom Allman’s control; they urged farmers to complain to the county, and the workshop offered a procedure and forms for doing that.
“This is not the first time I’ve heard allegations of ‘rogue’ deputies,” Sheriff Allman said in a phone interview. “It’s unfortunate that people talk about deputies without giving me names or specifics. I hope people in this county trust me enough so they can tell me about a situation.”
The Small Farmers Association is a new trade and lobbying group aimed at ensuring that small pot farmers play an integral role in the medical marijuana market, now and in the future — while maintaining sustainable environmental practices. The association’s growing standards, created with public and private countywide agricultural input over a two-year period, are the basis on which the organization inspects. The standards set an environmental bar for all small medical marijuana farms. Carrera said California’s Regional Water Quality Board would be utilizing the association’s growing standards in its upcoming Agricultural Discharge Permitting Program for medical marijuana.
The farmers association evolved out of Mendocino County’s Ordinance 9.31 Permittee and Zip-tie Program that allowed up to 99-plant medical marijuana gardens if growers met strict environmental and safety guidelines and adhered to the state attorney general guidelines. When a federal grand jury subpoenaed the program’s records in 2012, county supervisors dropped the 9.31, possibly fearing political reprisals such as the loss of federal funding for local projects.
Carrera and other members of the association’s board said they are committed to working with county and state law enforcement on writing medical cannabis legalization legislation; encouraging genetic diversity through heirloom seed preservation, and lobbying in Sacramento for equitable licensing and taxation for small farmers.
A $250 annual membership fee includes a farming newsletter, updated industry information and a garden inspection for a reduced rate of $50.
Saturday’s event was aimed at raising money to pay for video body cameras the farmers’ group will give to Mendocino’s Major Crimes Task Force and Mendocino County Marijuana Eradication Team to use when those departments raid marijuana gardens. Carrera said their use has resulted in reduced public complaints and more accountable personnel, according to Carrera.
“Deputies would wear them so people could see what is going on,” Carrera said. “We want cameras rolling when they raid so we see they don’t take money without reporting it, or shoot your water tank or your dog, or commit unreasonable search and seizures that we hear a lot of complaints about.”
Body cameras are already in use at Mendocino County correctional facilities, according to Allman, who said he has just ordered 10 more for the department.
One member of the audience questioned why pot farmers should pay for video recorders for county law enforcement when the county reported bringing in more than $4.1 million last year in restitution fees from growers who were raided.
By way of explanation, Carrera, who said she has cultivated “good standing relationships” with law enforcement, Fish and Wildlife and Regional Water Quality Board when she inspects gardens at growers’ requests, said that the county restitution fees make up for the much-needed income lost when the lucrative zip-tie and permittee program ended.
Allman said his department has five enforcement objectives and will “go after” any “rogue” marijuana grow where there is evidence of: environmental damage, including illegal pesticide use and erosion; illegal water diversion or water theft; growing on public land; trespass growing, including on timberlands or homestead growing on someone else’s property; commercial growing beyond 25 plants.
As Blue Luke and the Elements entertained partygoers, Jeff Stewart, owner of the Chief, explained why he hosted the event. “This is something I believe in. I believe in freedom. I’ve always believed in the herb; it’s a miracle worker. Patients need their medicine. I could see the Small Farmers Association starting an Americans for Safe Access chapter. We’re pioneers here. I think there’s a need for the knowledge people like us have acquired.”
A farmers’ association board member who wished to remain anonymous said that because marijuana is illegal, growers tend to isolate themselves from each other and are often reluctant make friends with neighbors or invite them into their homes. He said he got involved in the association because he wants to help build a community of other like-minded marijuana farmers.
“By that I mean people that are not exclusively growing for profit but who genuinely care about their patients — that they receive their medicine — and want to produce a superior product that is made within the parameters of being environmentally conscious and sustainable. I also feel that we as growers need to create a united front to position ourselves favorably within the pending legislative framework now evolving regarding our industry.”
Writer and actress Sherry Glaser, whose Love In It cooperative and medical marijuana dispensary in Ft. Bragg was raided March 4 by county and federal agents, was present at the workshop and entertained the gathering with a short comedy sketch.
“Sherry was indeed selling on the black market,” Carrera explained before the event. “That is against our mission statement and objectives. However, everyone was selling on the black market prior to 9.31. And people are transitioning out of it as they become more aware of the varying laws and how to navigate through them. The board believes in rehabilitation, an open door through unity. Sherry was never inspected, nor was she a member. But I called her after her raid and told her what we were doing, and she volunteered her time.”
Glaser told the group she supported the work of the Small Farmers Association. “I encourage you to get legal and figure out on what grounds that we can do this,” she said. “We need all of you — drivers, dispensaries, growers, to make law not react to the law, and actually construct it. Have you got that kind of courage?”
(Jane Futcher’s Women Gone Wild is a memoir about moving to northern Mendocino County.)