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“Enforce Your Pot Ordinance”

Two weeks ago, the Board of Supervisors held its second meeting eliciting public comment and discussing proposed changes to the county’s newly created cannabis ordinance.

At the outset, the Board was addressed by the representatives of two state resource agencies, who pointedly but politely bared their fangs on the enforcement issue.

CAL FIRE’s Unit Resource Manager Craig Pederson, who oversees the state’s forest practice program in the county, spoke on the lack of enforcement regarding tree removal associated with marijuana cultivation.

“CAL FIRE was satisfied with the final ordinance language which clearly prohibited tree removal” for grow sites, Pederson said. But, he stated, “In practice we find that not to be the case as conversion of timberland to cultivate marijuana has continued.”

He pointed out that ‘the number of issues and potential CAL FIRE law enforcement cases are escalating …”

He told the Supes, “CAL FIRE encourages the county to promptly and consistently enforce the cultivation ordinance. The ordinance must be enforced by the county, as lead agency, to ensure responsible agencies’ (such as CAL FIRE) written and verbal concerns are addressed.”

He reminded the Supes that the ordinance created a “zero tolerance for tree removal. It doesn’t allow a single tree to be removed for cultivation purposes.”

The bottom line for CAL FIRE is they are not happy that they are being forced by the “escalating” tree removal activities of growers to do the enforcement duties that are actually the county’s responsibilities.

Next, Angela Liebenberg of Fish & Wildlife (CDF&W), made a series of succinct but no nonsense recommendations to the Board.

• The county needs “robust enforcement” of its ordinance;

• Additional county enforcement staff is needed;

• Cultivators with prior F&W violations should not be allowed to apply for permits;

• State law requires cultivators when circumstances warrant to apply for streambed alteration permits; and

• The county’s CEQA document “may not be sufficient.”

Both state resource agencies, in effect, were; putting the county on notice and creating a record that there are some fairly substantial problems with the local ordinance, specifically with enforcement, or the lack thereof.

F&W’s not so veiled threat on the sufficiency of the ordinance’s EIR is nothing to take lightly given the litigation history surrounding that issue.

Likewise, the warning regarding streambed alteration permits is nothing to sneeze at since it deals with one of the cornerstones of state legislation legalizing marijuana: illegal diversions of water. State law requires all people diverting surface waters (springs, streams, and rivers), including diversion of water from subterranean streams, to contact F&W to ascertain whether a streambed alteration permit (a so-called “1600 agreement”) is required. Non-compliance with the law could lead to criminal enforcement along with substantial fines and penalties.

One of the county’s problems on the enforcement issue is where do they find the money to meet state agency demands for a “robust enforcement” scheme?

The most recent reports on the application process show that a little over 600 people have taken the plunge, an underwhelming response given there are probably 9,000 to 15,000 folks in the business currently. (By the way, some people in the know tell me that those are very conservative estimates.)

Whatever the real numbers are, the point is very little income from permits, licenses, related fees, and of course, taxes, is now rolling in.

The county may find itself boxed in on enforcement. If they don’t do it, they’re going to be put in a big hurt locker by the state, which evidently is not going to tolerate “escalating” violations of basic resource laws. That was the message delivered by the representatives of CALFIRE and F&W at the BOS meeting. They made it pretty clear there may be potential legal problems looming on the horizon if the county doesn’t start enforcing their marijuana ordinance, and some of those are not easy problems to solve.

 

(Courtesy, the Mendocino County Observer)

2 Comments

  1. Smalley Ags August 4, 2017

    The income from fees will be a drop in the bucket compared to the money that will be spent on poverty issues as a rural county loses it’s once robust source of income. If the powers that be were to support/promote small environmentally friendly farms we would all be better off in the future.

  2. james marmon August 6, 2017

    NOT SO FAST

    Here’s a letter to the State of Washington from AG Jeff Sessions regarding their marijuana industry. They received it on Thursday 8/2/2017.

    Dear Governor Inslee and Attorney General Ferguson:

    “Thank you for your letters of February 15, 2017, April 3, 2017, and May 8, 2017, which I have attached to this letter as Exhibits A, B, and C for your convenience. I was pleased to read that you share my concern for public health and safety and my belief that the federal and state governments should work together to address our country’s concerns with marijuana. Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a crime. The Department remains committed to enforcing the Controlled Substances Act in a manner that efficiently applies our resources to address the most significant threats to public health and safety. I look forward to working with you on these issues.

    I also read with interest the statement in your letter that you “have worked … to establish robust regulatory structures that prioritize public health and public safety,” and that you believe that the 2013 Cole Memorandum, its eight enforcement priorities, and related memoranda are an “indispensable” part of the “framework” in your state. In that regard, I would note the concluding paragraph: “nothing herein [in the Cole Memorandum] precludes investigation or prosecution, even in the absence of any one of the factors listed above, in particular circumstances where investigation and prosecution otherwise serves an important federal interest.” Thus, the memorandum “does not alter in any way the Department’s authority to enforce federal law, including federal laws relating to marijuana, regardless of state law.”

    https://s3.amazonaws.com/big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/LtrfromSessions.pdf

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