Mendocino County, California’s unique, income-generating medical marijuana growing permit program has been suspended pending the outcome of a Southern California court case challenging the legality of issuing permits for activities that are illegal under federal law.
The permits — popular in the medical marijuana community for the peace of mind they fostered — allowed medicinal cannabis collectives to grow up to 99 plants, with a fee structure including inspections and zip-tie identification markers for each plant.
The annual application and initial inspection cost $1,500, with each zip tie costing $50. Monthly inspections cost from $300 to $600 per month, according to Sheriff’s Sgt. Randy Johnson, who’s in charge of the program.
|Santa Rosa Press Democrat
|Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman: “We are, of course, supportive of legitimate medical marijuana here.”
Last year, 94 cannabis farmers signed up for the program, which generated $663,230 for the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office just from July through December, according to county officials.
But the county’s legal counsel advised Sheriff Allman to suspend the permits this year, pending the outcome of Pack vs Superior Court of Los Angeles. A state appellate court ruled that the permitting process in that case exceeded local government authority to regulate cannabis.
The case is pending before the California Supreme Court, which will decide by February 8 whether to hear it.
The dispute stemmed from a challenge to the city of Long Beach, which adopted an ordinance requiring permits for medical marijuana collectives. Like Mendocino County, the city charged fees for its permits.
Long Beach has since paid back more than $700,000 to medical marijuana collective permit holders, according to Mendocino County Counsel Jeanine Nadel.
“I don’t want our county to be in that situation,” Nadel said.
The permits have been popular among many marijuana growers, but some of them say it’s not a fair idea.
Saying the program “only taxed the sick,” Jim Hill, a member of the Mendocino Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee, compared it to “installing parking meters only in handicapped spaces.”
Hill said Mendo should expect legal challenges if it reinstates the program, regardless of how the Pack case turns out.
County Supervisor Dan Hamburg, who is a medical marijuana patient, said the program was adopted before he joined the board last year. He said its promoters, including Supervisor John McCowen and Sheriff Allman, “meant well,” but the ordinance is “overly ambitious” given pot’s illegal status under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
“I’ve said for a long time I thought (it) was painting too big a target on our backs,” Hamburg said.
Federal agents have raided at least two collectives that had Mendocino County permits. The federal warrant for Northstone Organics
in Redwood Valley even included a photo of a banner with the county permit number, which is visible from the air, according to Northstone founder Matt Cohen.
Supervisor McCowen said he was “dismayed” over the federal crackdown. The feds threatened landlords who rent to dispensaries with property seizures. U.S. Attorneys also sent letters to city officials in several locations, including Eureka and Chico, “notifying” them tat ordinances they enacted or planned to enact are illegal under federal law.
“The intent seems to be to drive medical marijuana back underground and destroy the attempts of local governments to regulate medical marijuana consistent with state law in a way that best protects public safety and the environment,” McCowen said.
Mendo supervisors have also suspended plans to regulate dispensaries in light of the pending court case and the federal crackdown.
The board discussed the cultivation permits in “closed session” on Monday.