“There are ninety nine things we agree on, and just one thing we disagree about.”
So states Mike Canales, President of the Business Board of the Pinoleville Pomo Nation, referring to a meeting he had today with Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman regarding the number of marijuana plants the tribe can legally place on their sovereign lands.
Heads have been turning and phones have been ringing all weekend, as casual passers-by, cannabis farmers and concerned citizens attempted to discern what they were seeing on a two-acre parcel visible from US 101, just north of Ukiah.
Those in the know identified the pallets of soil, the circular fabric “pots” and the irrigation lines as a burgeoning cannabis growing operation. But what was to be a 200-plant project situated on tribal lands has now been curtailed to two contiguous “grows” situated on adjacent parcels- one consisting of 25 plants and one strategically containing 26 plants.
Why 26 plants? “Because the Sheriff told me this afternoon that if we grow one plant over the 25-plant-per-parcel limit, he would eradicate that plant,” says Canales. And that, he continues, would initiate a chain of events that Canales states would violate rights of tribal sovereignty, something that Canales is ready to test in federal court.
Tribal members, under the tutelage of local, professional cannabis farmers have been working around the clock preparing the site for the delivery of the already-growing marijuana plants, which, following the completion of their life cycle, will be turned into bio-medicinal capsules and sublingual medicines (generally tinctures), designed to treat specific medical conditions known to be responsive to cannabis therapies.
But in order to make medicine from marijuana, the tribe requires enough plants to create it. Canales feels the Sheriff is misguided in his concerns over the tribal cannabis operation. “We had a good meeting today. A cordial meeting- one of many over the past year or so. But the Sheriff feels he still has jurisdiction over this area. Our three attorneys do not agree,” Canales continues.
The Sheriff is exercising his authority to limit the number of plants on the reservation based upon the county’s 9.31 marijuana growing ordinance, which states that a maximum of 25 plants can be grown per parcel. Canales states that as a sovereign nation, the tribe is not subject to the conditions of the ordinance, and they are ready to take the difference of opinion to court.
“When we plant that 26th plant, we have been told by the Sheriff that he will eradicate. At that point, we will file an injunction. I encouraged the Sheriff to come on the land. There won’t be any impediments to access. We feel that politically, the Sheriff doesn’t understand the 1988 decree, which gives our tribe jurisdiction of our lands. We believe we’re right, and they believe they’re right. We’re ready to go to Federal Court in San Francisco to talk about jurisdiction,” says Canales.
Canales feels the impasse would be better resolved government-to-government. “We would like to go forward by working with the county’s ad-hoc cannabis committee and the Board of Supervisors from here on. We’re talking about conversations and agreements from one sovereign state to another sovereign state.”
The garden site, clearly visible from Highway 101, is fed with well water located on tribal lands, powered by a solar pump. By planting the 26th plant at the site, the tribe is, in essence, calling the Sheriff’s bluff. “This tosses the ball to county government. Are they going to be happy with the legal bill they are going to receive when, and not if, we win our case?” Canales smiles. A detailed, 47-page Tribal Medical Marijuana Ordinance has been provided to the Sheriff and County Counsel. Examples of other ordinances crafted between county governments and tribes have also been provided to the Sheriff. “From the memo we received from the District Attorney, which is public record, we were under the impression that 200 plants, if they were covered and protected from view, would be permissible and that the District Attorney would not be interested in pursuing gardens that met the other important compliance guidelines, which we do. The Sheriff stated today that if you can see the plants from the street, according to the 9.31 regulations, you can’t grow there. We are putting fencing and protective visual barriers around the plants so they can’t be seen. Everyone will still know what we’re doing, but we are happy to comply with this request. But we planned our garden accordingly for 200 plants. Now, our hand has been forced.”
The tribe has jurisdiction of their entire 99-acre Rancheria and an additional 30 acres held in trust. Now, with the growing season rapidly under way, the tribe is scrambling to find appropriate locations for the remaining 150 marijuana plants, which will now be planted on portions of their trust lands. “We will be planting on some of that land. It will be fenced and protected. I’ve told County Counsel that although we have the right to plant on parcels on Lovers Lane, we’re not doing that. We’ve told the neighbors that we’re not doing that,” he continues.
“Some tribes are growing over ten times what we intend to grow. Yet they have forged agreements and ordinances between themselves and their local governments. This is a great deal of hassle and money for the county to spend to mitigate one plant- we’re not growing 2,000 plants, or a 40-acre parcel packed with cannabis plants,” Canales continues.
Two organizations, the United Cannabis Corporation and the Foxbarry Companies are providing the expertise and the structure for what Canales believes is the first project of its kind in the nation- a tribal-run, medical-only cannabis operation.
“The United Cannabis Corporation is a publicly traded medical marijuana company that produces no recreational products whatsoever. They develop numerous cannabis therapies for patients that have various ailments. This project is all about the medicinal properties of cannabis.”
For the tribe, the project is about improving the quality of life for members. “It’s about providing economic opportunities for this tribe so we can do the things that any government wants to do- provide affordable housing, quality education and job security for its people,” says Canales. He stresses, emphatically, that no recreational marijuana will be produced, sold or distributed. “All of these products are going to be turned into medicine. No bud is going onto the Mendocino black market- here or anywhere else,” he continues. “No tribal member is allowed to grow cannabis at their place of residence. Our ordinance stipulates that the project is structured as a not-for-profit collective. We can hire consultants, purchase materials and the like, but no tribal member will receive direct profits from the project,” he continues. Canales says that in the past week, the project has spent over $300,000 locally on soil, staffing, irrigation equipment and all the other necessities to establish a garden of this size.
If the suit goes forward and the tribe wins, Canales expects that not all the fallout will be positive. “Unlike our tribe, some will react to the fear mongering by growing as many plants as they want, without consulting or working with their local governments or their neighbors. There are other tribes that are growing cannabis, and they’re all going to join this lawsuit. I believe that this action puts everyone who is growing cannabis at risk today. I’d be really concerned if I were growing 25 plants right now and had a couple extras on hand in case some of the plants end up being males.”
“There are very disreputable people growing thousands and thousands of plants all over this county, and they’re picking on Pinoleville? A poor tribe with 200 plants? If I were the county, I’d be spending my meager resources looking for people polluting watersheds and growing 2,000 plants. Our tribe is going forward to exercise our sovereign rights on our trust lands. We do not intend to be singled out,” Canales concludes.
(This article first appeared in the Ukiah Daily Journal.)