Mendocino County is taking another step towards legitimizing medical marijuana with new regulations for collectives. But federal law is getting in the way. Medical marijuana collectives can grow up to 99 plants per five-acre parcel through a new countywide permitting and zip-tie program. It’s an exemption to the county’s 25 medical marijuana plants per parcel ordinance that the supervisors passed in 2009.
“It started with a desire of me wanting to give some kind of comfort level to people who are doing everything they can to be legitimate,” said Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman, who initiated a pilot voluntary zip-tie program in 2008. This year, the program is now required by County Code.
Despite the local law, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency raided the program’s first participant last week. Covelo area resident, 67-year old Joy Greenfield was growing under the county’s newly regulated marijuana dispensary program for a collective she owns in San Diego. DEA agents assisted by the County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team raided her property, confiscated her computer and cash, and tore out the collective’s 99 plants. Critics like Supervisor John McCowen say the move undermines the Sheriff’s new program.
“I’m concerned it will cause some people to say ‘see I told you if you applied for a permit they will tell the feds and bust you.’ I think it’s a very unfortunate coincidence,” McCowen said.
But the fact that County law enforcement was involved in the raid leaves questions about how the DEA obtained information about Greenfield.
“Nobody from the DEA or anybody from the federal government has ever seen any paperwork she has submitted to my office,” said Allman. “It’s not in any computer system. It’s kept in my office, and I know who has looked at it.” Allman defended COMMET’s involvement with the raid, stating it’s his policy to have a Sheriff’s deputy at every federal raid in the county.
“Any investigation that the DEA did in that case they did entirely on their own without our knowledge or checking with us,” said Allman.
According to McCowen neither COMMET nor the DEA was aware Greenfield was a legitimate participant in the county’s new zip tie program. California NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Director Dale Gieringer wrote in a press release the raid “was part of a larger investigation involving other suspects.”
This isn’t the first time a participant in the zip-tie program was raided. In 2008 Mendocino County Sheriff’s deputies raided the home of a participant in the then voluntary zip-tie program. Despite the raid, Allman estimates that year the County program raised an estimated $30,000 in zip-tie fees. Allman estimates so far this year, the program has raised another $30,000 and the season is not yet over.
To sign up, a medical marijuana collective member can apply for a permit through the Sheriff’s office for a fee of $1,050. If an applicant meets the dozens of requirements, the medical marijuana farm is then required to undergo a monthly inspection either by the Sheriff or a third-party inspector.
“The third-party inspector process is going to allow some people comfort in knowing that law enforcement is not going to come there and eradicate marijuana,” said Allman.
The monthly inspection is designed to ensure participants are complying with six pages of county regulations. That includes growing 100 feet away from neighboring residences, using a legal water source (no illegal water diversions), and fencing the grow area to completely cover it from the public view.
Supervisor John McCowen was a key author of the new 99 plant rule.
“My intent is to shift the production of marijuana from an unregulated, underground economy to one that is in compliance with reasonable conditions that protect the public health, safety, welfare and the environment,” he said.
The new program is also expected to generate revenue for the County’s struggling general fund. In addition to the $1,050 processing fee, the monthly inspections will cost between $100-$400 a month. Participants also pay $25 fee for each zip-tie which is supposed to be permanently secured to each flowering medical marijuana plant they cultivate. Each zip-tie has a unique serial number to identify the plant. The zip-ties are color coded and change every year.
There are also fees for the third party inspector. The inspector pays a $1,500 application fee and a $1,500 processing fee if approved. The third-party inspector must pass a background check and meet other qualifications.
“The third-party inspector can have no financial interest in marijuana in Mendocino County. They must have a business license and a $1,000,000 liability insurance that holds the county harmless,” said, Julia Carrera, an alternative health care provider who’s applied to be an inspector to help prop up her struggling practice.
Proceeds from the new 99 plant zip-tie/dispensary program go into the county’s general fund and at a time of severe budget cuts. The program could help fill the gap — if six pages of requirements and threats of DEA raids hasn’t stopped medical marijuana growers from signing up.
Medical marijuana advocates are lambasting the federal government for subverting local laws. “The DEA is stepping all over local authorities [who are] trying to tax and regulate,” said Greenfield’s attorney Bob Boyd, in a press release from CaNORML.
CaNORML’s Gieringer said the battle over state’s right to permit medical marijuana and federal law is an indication change is needed. “A change in federal law is long overdue,” Gieringer said.
That may not be likely since a Bush holdover remains the DEA deputy director under President Obama.
Voters in California will have their say to the feds in November when a marijuana legalization proposition hits the ballot which would allows local government to legalize and tax the plant. Until then, counties in the Emerald Triangle are seeking ways to make the most out of the ever-changing pseudo-legal marijuana situation.
For more information on Mendocino County’s zip-tie/dispensary program visit the Sheriff’s office website at www.mendocinosheriff.com.