Pot Code Enforcement By Other Means

by Mark Scaramella, July 12, 2017

See if you can spot the common thread from the following selected quotes about marijuana regulation enforcement in northern California.

From a Nevada County News Report in “The Union”:

“…the legal procedure of removing, or abating, a grow remains the same, Nevada City attorney Heather Burke said. According to Burke, authorities can remove plants immediately under two circumstances: The grow is an immediate threat to the public health or safety of the community, or there's a clear violation of state law. According to Nevada County counsel Alison Barratt-Green, the county could impose monetary fines for violations (of its medical marijuana ordinance) under its administrative citation process. However, the sheriff hasn't applied that process to marijuana grows. After receiving a citation, the grower can become compliant or file an appeal within five days. ‘Most people self-abate,’ Burke said. Someone who becomes compliant typically avoids sanctions, if they meet the precise letter of the law. Failing to become compliant, and opting against filing an appeal, can lead authorities to show up with an abatement warrant six days after issuing a citation, Burke said.”

In her own blog, attorney Burke adds:

“Moreover, thanks to our ‘interim’ ordinance, law enforcement can ‘summarily abate’ (i.e., slash-and-burn) without a hearing wherever there is any violation of state law! Thus, even a misdemeanor violation of Prop 215 and/or the Collective/Cooperative rules could possibly get you immediately chopped, fined $100 per plant, perhaps arrested, and having to ‘lawyer up’ for a criminal case. Talk about insult to injury! Additionally, although Prop. 64 (aka ‘AUMA’) downgraded illegal cultivation to a misdemeanor in most situations, it is still a felony where the plants are grown in a way that harms the environment. Law enforcement will likely interpret the environmental crimes broadly, so unpermitted clear-cutting in an area close to the watersheds or irresponsible use of pesticides might get you arrested for harming the environment. Since you can be denied a state license under MCRSA for a felony conviction based on purposeful injury to our Mother Earth, you should not half-ass your legal or environmental compliance this year. Self-Abate: You can self-abate any plants that are out of compliance prior to your inspection. They can’t fine you if you abated before they arrive. But even if you cut down your own plants in front of Law Enforcement, fines and fees may still apply!”

A second quote from ‘The Union’ in Nevada County:

“The neighbor of one medical marijuana grow allegedly turned her in — but not before first sending her a fake abatement letter with Nevada County Sheriff's Office ‘letterhead.’ The bogus notice informed her that she was in violation of the cultivation ordinance, as well as state and federal law, and informed her that she was required to immediately abate her marijuana. ‘We thought it was real,’ said the woman, who has Hodgkin's lymphoma. ‘We did pull up some plants.’ The week after the family received the letter — which they reported to law enforcement — deputies did a compliance check on their garden and found it to be out of compliance. She has since filed an appeal; the neighbor apparently will not face charges.”

From the Shasta County Record Searchlight:

“A full-time code inspector designated to investigate only marijuana grow complaints started late last season, and the sheriff's department also has assigned a full-time deputy to assist. Fletcher said that together the boot-strapped team will be able to handle more inspections, referring illegal grows on to SMIT (Sheriff’s Marijuana Investigation Team) for a closer look or funneling out-of-compliance medical growers through the nuisance abatement process when needed. But his office is also planning to take a more hardline approach this year, he said. That could mean charging growers who refuse to come into compliance with county regulations with a misdemeanor and chopping down plants. ‘We have the ability to try these as misdemeanors under the same ordinance we're under now, we just didn't exercise that a lot (last year),’ he said. ‘That means the owner will have the opportunity to self-abate (or come into compliance with county guidelines), and if they don't, and the stars align, we may plan on cutting (the plants) right then and charging them with a misdemeanor’.”

From the Chice Enterprise-Record (Butte County)

“As county officials are investigating cases and scheduling hearings, they face the end of the cultivation season in October. When the crop is harvested, most sites will again be in compliance with county codes. ‘Essentially, every case is going to self-abate in about a month,’ County development director Snellings said.”

From the minutes of a Sierra County Board of Supervisors meeting.

“In response to Chair Adams’ inquiry, Deputy County Counsel clarified that typically if an appeal is filed the plants are left until after the appeal. That wouldn’t prove to be true in a summary abatement which would be if there is imminent danger. He believes in this case Mr. Strohbin has self-abated the plants in excess that he could have based on the number of residents on the property.”

From Mariposa County Marijuana Meeting notes:

“Supervisor Carrier inquired as to the process if someone files an appeal from a notice of non-compliance with the Clerk of the Board and whether there is a paper trail, and a communication mechanism between the compliance officer and the appellant. Mr. Arias responded that there should be some kind of communication between the Clerk of the Board and the enforcement officer, but that nothing is stated in the ordinance. Supervisor Carrier inquired if there will be a paper trail if they file an appeal; and inquired what will happen to the plants if the grower receives a notice of abatement and decides to self-abate. Ms. Williams responded that those are issues that need to be addressed. Supervisor Carrier noted that he feels the intent of the ordinance is good and seems to be to alleviate cartel growth.”

From an on-line comment in Calaveras County:

“Less than 70 [pot farm] applicants have received a certificate of registration [permit] to grow pot in Calaveras County. That leaves about 700 who applied, paid, and are awaiting final clearance (what you call 'legal'), thus we must also refer to the '700' as illegal. Farmer Jeffy went to market with his crop. Then the fuzz in Chicagoland intercepted his cart of medicine. Despite his claims of humanitarian efforts to deliver medicine to the poor folks in Chicagoland, the man jacked him up, took his crop of medicine and checked him into the grayrock motel. As a 'denied' pot grower, Jeffy was compelled to self abate his crop. Jeffy's understanding (oxymoron) of 'abatement' is to dump the dope quick, at any cost.”

. . . (And so on)

If you guessed that the common thread was “self-abatement,” you’d be right. When we first heard Mendo’s County Marijuana Code Enforcement Chief Trent Taylor use the word a few weeks ago we wondered whether he had coined it as a semi-joke, or if it had was some kind of established practice. Clearly from the above, the term is being used by a number of pot growing counties in Northern California; apparently the officials who use it think it means that the offending pot grower cuts down any offending pot plants so that he or she can be in compliance with whatever rules may apply.

But there are many other possible meanings, such as:

Harvesting the plants.

Transplanting the plants.

Hiding the plants.

Selling the plants.

If they’re in pots, moving the plants.

Determining that x-number of the offending plants are male and voluntarily removing them like you would anyway, to look like you’re complying with a rule.

Etc.

Do Mendo’s burgeoning pot reg enforcement brigades really think that if a pot grower removes an offending pot plant that the grower is 1) going to chop it down, mulch it and bury it like the cops do, and 2) doing it to become legit, and that it’s somehow equivalent to “summary abatement” by cops?

* * *

Cannabis Code Enforcement Update: Lots of complaints, no action taken so far. (From the Board of Supervisors Agenda Packet for July 11, 2017):

…“In the last several weeks Code Enforcement has obtained voluntary compliance by self-abatement of Cannabis for 6 locations that were clearly not eligible for an exemption or permitting for outdoor cultivation for any reason; medical or adult use. These were primarily within residential locations that were impacting community quality of life for the surrounding residents. The Code Enforcement Division will continue with our regulatory approach to Cannabis Enforcement and we anticipate issuing notices of violations, administrative citations and abatement orders as necessary.”…

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