Mendo’s Murky Pot Rule Enforcement
by Mark Scaramella, January 12, 2017
With Big Pharma (aka Big Dope) poised to move big time into Mendocino County, we decided to take a look back at last June’s report by Jane Futcher, writing in the AVA about the ever-changing pot regulation landscape.
At that time, May of 2016, Mendo had issued an “urgency ordinance,” a preliminary version of the County 9.31 cultivation ordinance, in anticipation of the looming Green Rush. The urgency was explained in its intro: “in the absence of a formal regulatory framework” the County was adopting this ordinance because “the negative impacts frequently associated with marijuana cultivation are expected to increase, resulting in an unregulated, unstudied and potentially significant negative impact on the environment and upon the public peace, health and safety.”
According to Futcher, on May 26 of 2016, Mendocino County Undersheriff Randy Johnson, who represents the Sheriff on all cannabis matters, told an assembly of about 100 north county pot growers, “When we come out and inspect I don't want to see more than 99 plants.”
Presumably Johnson meant 99 plants per parcel, so questions would certainly arise about parcel sizes and ownership of those parcels and how many parcels to a customer.
Johnson also said, “Multiple permits to the same farmer are not permitted but may be reviewed on a case-by-case basis,” whatever the hell that means.
We have been unable to find out which of the various county offices are (were?) responsible for final approval of a pot growing permit under the Urgency Ordinance. The Sheriff, the Planning Department, the Ag Department and the Treasurer-Tax Collector all have a role. But there’s nothing indicating who has final approval and who is supposed to enforce the permit terms.
To qualify to grow green meds under the “urgency ordinance," an applicant had to provide "Proof of prior cultivation,” i.e., “evidence satisfactory to the Sheriff that, no later than May 17, 2016, the registrant or applicant has taken demonstrable steps toward the development of a commercial medical cannabis cultivation site on the parcel…” by providing one of several official documents, or “any similarly reliable documentary evidence satisfactory to the Sheriff that establishes that medical cannabis was planted and grown on the parcel to be registered prior to May 17, 2016.”
These regs are subject to interpretation, and Undersheriff Johnson is the interpreter.
What if the grower's "proof of prior cultivation" is faked, as it clearly has been in a case we are aware of; what if a neighbor disputes what the Sheriff — i.e., Undersheriff Johnson — accepted as proof of prior cultivation? Or disputing the proof that the end user really is “medical”? What if a neighbor thinks that the 99 plant limit is being exceeded? Will the Sheriff/Undersheriff Johnson provide a complaining neighbor with the documents Johnson used to grant the permit?
Enforcement: “The County may abate the violation of this Chapter in accordance with the provisions of County Code Chapter 8.75 or by the prosecution of a civil action, including an action for injunctive relief. The remedy of injunctive relief may take the form of a court order, enforceable through civil contempt proceedings, prohibiting the maintenance of the violation of this Chapter or requiring compliance with other terms.”
Which seems to be no enforcement at all. Are neighbors really expected to take a suspected permit violator to civil court? Would the County do it? What evidence would be required? What rules would apply?
It's obviously a mess. Not only is pot growing legalization a moving target, but the County's regs themselves are a moving target. Are the earlier applicants with some nebulous "proof of prior cultivation" subject to the new improved rules the County is now bragging about working on (as opposed to those "industry friendly" rules the pot growers proposed via Measure AF which went down to near 2-1 defeat)?
If the Sheriff can’t or won’t enforce violations, and if the above “enforcement” section is the only enforcement option for the public, why even have the regulations, old or new?
Mendo is poised to venture into the pot regulation arena with lots of nice sounding pot regulation paperwork — but, like with the wine industry, no real regulation on the ground.
The "green rush" thus appears to be more of a rush to get your permit, then do whatever you want — before the regs kick in, if they ever do kick in.