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Mendo Pot Regs: Maybe Next Year

Cannabis farmers and their supporters got a shock Monday when they learned from the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors that the county’s medical cannabis cultivation permits won’t be ready until October at the earliest — when the growing season is essentially over.

An assistant county counsel and the county’s planning chief said the cause of the delay is a state environmental law that requires zoning ordinance changes in forests and timberland protection zones (TPZ) be subject to full environmental review. Without such a review, which will take many months, the county could be subject to a CEQA lawsuit.

At a meeting in March, the county’s Ad Hoc Medial Marijuana Committee said it hoped the permits would be ready in June.

The delay in issuing medical cultivation permits means that farmers who grow more than 25 plants will have no pathway to legal compliance in Mendocino County this summer. Several said at the hearing that they have already spent thousands of dollars on county and state water-discharge and water-use compliance in order to qualify for the anticipated county permits. They said they couldn’t afford these costs if they can only grow the 25 plants allowed under current county law.

Without legal status, farmers said they would also be subject to raids this summer by the Drug Task Force and other law enforcement agencies.

Many of the 60 medical cannabis cultivators and their supporters present at the meeting implored the board to offer protection to farmers who are trying to comply with state and county cannabis laws.

“You are really going to leave us all out in the open if you continue in this way,” said the Emerald Cup’s founder Tim Blake, owner of Healing Harvest Farms Dispensary in Laytonville.

“Let’s be real here,” Blake said. “The Drug Task Force has been menacing Mendocino for 30 years, and if you guys sit here and leave us out in the open like this [District Attorney] Eyster and all the task force people are going to be out there terrorizing us all summer.

“We have been under something you’d see in the South for the last 30 years. It’s time to end it and we need your help to do it.”

Blake said that in Humboldt County, where medical cannabis cultivation permits have also been delayed, the county government has assured farmers that the Sheriff’s Department will not hassle them.

Supervisor John McCowen of Mendocino’s Ad Hoc Marijuana Committee said that there is no way the county would offer Mendocino cannabis farmers protection from law enforcement.

“The Sheriff must enforce the laws as he deems appropriate,” McCowen said.

During a break in the meeting, Supervisor Tom Woodhouse, the other member of the Ad Hoc Marijuana Committee, said he only learned that day of the need for a full environmental review by the Planning Department. He said he sympathized with farmers’ frustrations and hoped the public would be patient.

“We want to do this right. We have spent so much time already,” Woodhouse said. “These are people who want to comply. We want to get them into the safety of the system. Everything takes so much time. I appreciate their politeness. I’m stretching like I’m Gumby to be flexible.”

Many of the people who attended the meeting came prepared to discuss which county agency should enforce the medical cannabis permits.

Most farmers said they would prefer that the county Agriculture Department not the Sheriff’s Department enforce the permit ordinance, when written, because cannabis is an agricultural product.

But the announcement that no county permits would be issued until October at the earliest caused some farmers to look more favorably on a revival of the county’s former 99-plant, 9.31 program, managed by the Sheriff’s Department— as a temporary solution.

“We are more than disappointed to hear that farmers can’t grow more than 25 plants this season,” said Julia Carrera, a representative of the Small Farmers Association. “They will lose their farms or become criminals.

“Let the Sheriff give permits. Look at the 9.31 program for this growing season. Resurrect 9.31 for this year.”

The Board of Supervisors will hold another public meeting on the proposed medical cannabis ordinance and permits Monday, May 16, in the Supervisors’ Chambers in Ukiah.

(Jane Futcher hosts The Cannabis Hour on KZYX FM—Mendocino County Public Broadcasting.)

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Supervisors Deliberations

by Mark Scaramella

The Board of Supervisors learned Monday that pot regulations will take many more months to institute than expected. Apparently some anonymous wizard on Low Gap Road decided they'd need an EIR. (The simplest task is never easy in Mendocino County.) The local regs probably won't be in place until well after the 2016 growing season.

Long time North County marijuana activist Tim Blake complained to the supervisors that the delay would not be as much of a problem if Mendocino County could provide the kinds of assurances to participating growers that Humboldt County does.

"You are going to leave the legitimate growers out in the open," Blake said, if you continue this way. The people in Humboldt County are not going to get their permits in time like we are here because it's too big of a process. But none of them are worried because they have been assured by their government, by their Sheriff's department, that they are not going to be hassled. They are not going to come after these people. They all know that. Because in Humboldt you don't have people coming in for 25 or 40 plants and pillaging people. You don't have to play with Eyster. You don't have any of this stuff. Tom Allman had to get together with some of the 9.31 people and admit that there were so many allegations of impropriety and illegal activity among the task force and yet they turn it over to the DEA and the FBI in Santa Rosa. And that was back three years ago. Who is running the task force? It's the DEA and the FBI. So nothing was ever done. Come on! Let's be real here. This task force has been menacing in Mendocino County for 30 years. And if you guys sit here and leave us out like this it won't be like Humboldt. Eyster and all the task force people are going to be out there terrorizing us all summer. So have the courage to put something in place to protect us. Keep those people off us and do what's right. Because we are not Humboldt. And we have to ask you guys to protect us. And it's not under Sheriff Randy Johnson who is going to come after us, it's that task force and all those people who have been terrorizing us for all these years. There have been television shows made about this. This is not like something that has not been discussed in the open. We have been under something like you'd see in the South for the last 30 years. It's time to end it and we need your help to do it.

Blake's statement brought a hearty round of applause from the pot-friendly audience.

Supervisor McCowen commented, "I hear the concern but I don't see that it's one that we are able to address."

Supervisor Hamburg, a veteran stoner whose own grow operation was busted back in October of 2007, said that indeed he'd heard a lot of allegations in recent years about overzealous law enforcement on smaller grows and that they couldn’t all be wrong, adding that the Board does not control the Task Force and that he'd never been able to figure out who controls the task force. "I don't know if the Sheriff controls the task force. I don't know if the DEA controls the task force. The task force is made up of all these different agencies and each one contributes a member. I don't know who controls the task force. Maybe somebody can enlighten me on that."

Hamburg's put his finger right on the meat of the issue. How is it that the Supes don't know who's running the pot raid team? The plot thickens when we understand that Mendocino County makes a ton of money playing Let's Make A Deal with raided pot growers. The DA, in return for cash fines, trades gro felonies for misdemeanors. No raids, no Highway 101 "interdictions" no cash for County law enforcement. Overall, however, the status quo works to the advantage of local growers. The cops take off enough dope to keep prices attractively high (sic), although because so many people are now in the biz prices have fallen to new lows, that mom and pop, more mythical now than ever as the industrial grows become more prevalent, are more endangered from corporate-oriented competitors than they are from the police. When marijuana is fully legalized, the Mendocino County pot economy, will tank.

Supervisor Brown thought that the Board should consider an interim ordinance, but that idea had its own problems.

Supervisor Gjerde thought the Planning Commission should deal with the details, including some way to allow more than 25 plants for growers or bigger grow sites who need to grow more to cover all the costs of fees and permits and lawyers. Nothing was decided. The question of at what point the grow size would trigger a full EIR as well as questions about indoor grows and zoning and grandfathering and so forth will come back to the Board on May 16 after being considered by the Planning staff, the Planning Commission and the Board’s Marijuana ad hoc committee of Supervisors McCowen and Woodhouse.

Gjerde wrapped up with “I hope we can make some progress on this this year and a complete package for next year.”

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