Joe Munson was finally ready to pay his lawyer when the police paid him a visit on Monday morning.
Last week, Sonoma County returned to Munson — an inveterate grower of medical cannabis who, raided three times in Mendocino County and acquitted of charges every time, relocated five years ago to a hilltop plot in western Sonoma not far from Bohemian Grove — the $8,194 seized from him more than a year ago.
That time, on Sept. 23, 2015, Munson was popped with more than 1,000 plants — a plantation he argues he was entitled to have, because Sonoma County law provides for 30 plants per medical marijuana recommendation, with no specific ceiling of how much pot is too much. After insisting – loudly and publicly, as he has done every time this has happened over the past decade – that all the pot was for low-income patients who received it for free, Munson pleaded no contest to “aiding and abetting,” one of the few times in his life he has admitted any wrongdoing. But because he was not convicted of any drug-related crimes, his assets could not be forfeited.
That meant, after some lifting from his attorney, cops had to give Munson back his money, which he had in hand on Thursday. He was planning to drive up to Ukiah and visit that attorney, Keith Faulder – who Munson had not paid in many months – and give Faulder $4,000 when Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies pulled into his driveway at around 8 a.m. Monday for a “probation check.”
One of the conditions of his probation was that Munson could not grow medical marijuana without a permit. Exactly what that means is unclear – because as of right now, there is no such thing as a permit to grow medical marijuana in unincorporated Sonoma County.
The state won’t start issuing permits under the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last year until Jan. 1, 2018 – regardless of what happens with the voter initiative legalizing recreational marijuana at the polls next month – and in order to receive a state license, you need a local one. Sonoma County is still mulling exactly what to permit and how to do it, so by Munson’s reading of the law, he had all the permitting available to him: 60 recommendations from medical marijuana patients located all over the state.
That should have been more than enough to justify the 90 already-harvested plants in varying stages of curing and drying and the 236 plants still in the ground – in the same plot behind the house where they found them last year – that visiting deputies saw on Monday. Or, not.
“The policeman said to me, ‘You’re in violation of probation because you don’t have a permit to grow,’” Munson recounted over the telephone on Monday evening, a few hours after making bail and returning home, charges of cultivation, cultivation for sale, and violating his probation hanging over his head. “I said, ‘There’s no permits being issued yet.’ They said, ‘Well, that’s tough luck. You can’t grow pot until you have a permit.’”
“They haven’t set it up yet. What other rules could there possibly be?” he said. “If there aren’t any regulations, I’m supposed to fall back on [Prop.] 215.”
Munson paused. “Do you know what estoppel is?" Munson asked. "That's when they tell you something is OK and then they bust you for it."
Sheriff’s deputies found 16 pounds of “processed and packaged marijuana,” and “approximately 130 lbs of partially processed marijuana,” and “approximately $4400 in US Currency” as well as the 236 plants waiting to be harvested, according to a press release issued late Monday afternoon. The plants were cut down, the processed pot – and Munson’s cash, soon to be Faulder’s, yet again the government’s – seized, and Munson, 53, was booked into County Jail.
“The terms of his probation is that he cannot cultivate marijuana without a license,” a Sonoma County sheriff’s department spokesman confirmed.
Does that mean a medical marijuana license – does it mean a recommendation, does it mean many recommendations? What does it mean that Munson needed a “license” to grow – when there is no license to be had?
Munson says the deputies consulted with the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office before cutting anything down or hauling him away. “They had to call the DA because they didn’t know if I was breaking the law,” he says. “They called the DA and talked for about 15 minutes before they came back and said, ‘Nope – you’re no good, you gotta go.’”
Which could just mean Oaky Joe has yet again worn out his welcome with yet another northern California county.
“It looks like they’re targeting him,” said Omar Figueroa, a prominent Sonoma-based defense attorney who specializes in cannabis cases. It’s been a quiet year in Sonoma, with almost no raids of growers, Figueroa said – making Munson’s case an outlier, but an outlier with a history.
“Oaky Joe has stood up in the past, had many acquittals and dismissals,” he said. “Maybe they’re trying to teach him a lesson and make an example of him.”
That’s Munson’s immediate conclusion.
“I think they just don’t want me growing pot,” he said.