Pubdate: Sat, 10 Jan 2015
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2015 The Press Democrat
Author: Glenda Anderson


News that a Mendocino County Pomo tribe is building a $10 million 
indoor marijuana-cultivation facility on its rancheria just north of 
Ukiah has been met with a mix of surprise, concern and a sense it was 
inevitable as pot growing becomes increasingly common and legal.

"The tribes are just getting out ahead of the game" in preparation 
for the eventual legalization of marijuana for all uses in 
California, Mendocino County Supervisor Dan Hamburg said.

"Legalization is coming. That's where we're headed," said Dale 
Gieringer, state coordinator for the National Organization for the 
Reform of Marijuana Laws. Medical marijuana has been legal in 
California for 18 years and, after several failed attempts, a ballot 
measure aimed at legalizing recreational use is widely expected to 
pass in 2016. About two dozen states have decriminalized or legalized 
marijuana in some manner.

Many thought American tobacco companies would take the lead with 
large-scale operations and attempt to monopolize the cannabis 
business, Hamburg said.

"It looks like it'll be the tribes," he said.

The Pinoleville Pomo Nation has contracted with Colorado-based United 
Cannabis and Kansas-based FoxBarry Farms to grow thousands of 
marijuana plants in greenhouses on its 99-acre rancheria. FoxBarry, 
which also invests in tribal casinos, is financing and managing the project.

Other venture capitalists are getting into the pot business. Founders 
Fund, a firm known for backing companies like Facebook, has invested 
undisclosed millions in Privateer Holdings, a Seattle private equity 
firm focused on marijuana.

Pinoleville is believed to be the first California tribe to build a 
large cannabis-growing facility, but at least two more are planned 
elsewhere in the state by the same corporations responsible for the 
Ukiah operation. They have not divulged the locations, other than 
they would be in Central and Southern California.

The Ukiah operation, which will feature a 110,000-square-foot 
facility on nearly 2.5 acres, is scheduled to open in February, 
representatives of the groups said. They did not say exactly where 
the greenhouses would be, but only about a third of the rancheria is 
held in federal trust, which frees the companies from following all 
local and most state regulations.

The lack of accountability is what concerns Mendocino County officials.

"They can do whatever they want," Mendocino County Chief Executive 
Officer Carmel Angelo said. The tribe will be exempt from the 
county's zoning ordinance aimed at controlling the number and 
locations of marijuana plants grown for medical use. In addition to 
the rancheria property, the tribe also owns 100 acres near Ukiah High 
School, for which it is seeking trust status.

The tribe did not notify county officials of its plans, so news of 
the pot-growing facility caught them off guard.

"I'm a bit taken aback," said county Supervisor Carre Brown. She 
noted that many of the tribes consult with the county about 
development projects as a courtesy, even though they're exempt from 
its planning process.

Hamburg said he also didn't know about the project but has expected 
something like it to eventually happen.

"None of this really surprises me," he said. "I just wish there was 
more we could do about it."

Hamburg said he'd prefer that the county have some control over 
marijuana production and the ability to collect taxes on the product. 
He'd also prefer to see smaller, outdoor growing operations.

"My heart is really with the small grower community," Hamburg said. 
He also believes that outdoor gardens create fewer environmental 
impacts than indoor farms.

"From an ecological perspective, that does not sit well with me," 
Hamburg said of the tribe's operation.

County officials also worry that other tribes will follow suit and 
cannabis-growing operations will proliferate, much as casinos have.

But it's still too soon to tell whether federal officials - who 
continue to consider marijuana illegal - will allow such large-scale 
production to take place, even though they appeared last month to 
give the tribes the green light, Gieringer said.

In a memorandum produced at the request of tribes seeking 
clarification on the marijuana issue, the U.S. Department of Justice 
essentially said it's up to tribes, as sovereign nations, to decide 
whether marijuana is legal or not on their lands.

But the memorandum also states that there's nothing preventing U.S. 
authorities from enforcing federal law in "Indian Country." And, in 
recent years, federal agencies have cracked down on large-scale pot 
production operations in the Bay Area.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the Department of Justice took an 
interest" in the tribe's operation, Gieringer said.

Neither state nor U.S. Department of Justice officials could be 
reached for comment Friday.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom