Pubdate: Thu, 12 Jan 2012
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2012 The Press Democrat
Author: Glenda Anderson, The Press Democrat


The U.S. Attorney's Office has threatened to sue Mendocino County over
its money-making medical marijuana cultivation permits, county
officials confirmed Wednesday.

The warning was delivered during a Jan. 3 meeting between County
Counsel Jeanine Nadel and representatives of the U.S. Attorney's
Office, Nadel said.

In response, county supervisors will review the pot permit ordinance
on Jan. 24.

The program already has been suspended pending the outcome of a
Southern California court case that questioned the legitimacy of
issuing permits for medical marijuana-related endeavors.

County Supervisor John McCowen, who was instrumental in creating the
county's permit ordinance, criticized the threat and the federal
crackdown initiated last year against medical marijuana operations and

Such actions "will have the effect of driving medical marijuana back
underground, making it more illegal, profitable and dangerous," he
said Wednesday.

The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment.

Supervisors will be considering changes to the ordinance that would
bring it into compliance with the current status of the Los Angeles
case, McCowen said. That likely would include an end to the permits
and changeover to regulations, which appear to be more acceptable to
the courts, he said.

The essence of the court case is "you can regulate but you can't
permit," McCowen said.

Abandoning the permits would mean a loss of income to the Mendocino
County Sheriff's Office. The permits, inspections and identifying zip
ties generated $663,230 for the department last year.

Last year federal officials issued letters of warning to other
California cities, including Chico and Eureka. Both subsequently
backed away from their ordinances.

The letter to Chico Mayor Ann Schwab noted that marijuana cultivation
remains illegal under federal law and said that people who "knowingly
facilitate such industrial cultivation will be doing so in violation
of federal law."

In Mendocino County, some local officials, including Mendocino County
Supervisor Dan Hamburg, a medicinal marijuana patient, have criticized
the permit program as being too progressive for the times and bringing
federal attention to the county.

It allowed medical marijuana collectives to grow up to 99 plants. The
annual application and first inspection cost $1,500. Each plant was
required to have an identifying zip tie, at a cost of $50 each.
Monthly inspections cost between $300 and $600, sheriff's officials

Last year, 94 people signed up for the program.

County Counsel Jeanine Nadel said Monday she has advised Sheriff Tom
Allman to suspend the program in part because the county could be
required to repay the permitting fees, depending on the outcome of the
Los Angeles case.

The county's pot-growing permits are popular among many marijuana
growers but some have reservations. Critics say they are a tax on the
sick and could trigger a lawsuit.

Marijuana growers who participate in the program had hoped it would
avert law enforcement raids. But federal authorities last year raided
at least two cooperatives that held county permits.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has been cracking down on medicinal
marijuana cultivation and dispensaries since early last year,
including issuing warnings to landlords who rent to medical marijuana

Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, in
October filed a federal lawsuit seeking to halt the federal
government's action. 
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