Pubdate: Thu, 09 Apr 2015
Source: Chico News & Review, The (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Chico Community Publishing, Inc.
Author: Howard Hardee


County Officials Set Record Straight on Measure a Lawsuit

A couple of false rumors regarding Butte County's laws and officials 
have been spreading via social media. Take, for instance, an obituary 
for District Attorney Mike Ramsey posted on Facebook.

Appearing before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (April 7) in 
Oroville, Ramsey assured the panel that he's very much alive. He also 
said the fabricated obituary was posted by a resident of the Berry 
Creek area-the same origin of a second false rumor on Facebook 
regarding Measure A, the ballot initiative passed into law by voters 
last November that restricts medical marijuana gardens by square 
footage rather than number of plants.

As Chief Administrative Officer Paul Hahn explained earlier in the 
meeting, word had spread that, in response to a pending lawsuit 
seeking to cease enforcement of Measure A, a court had deemed the law 

"That is not the case by any means of the imagination," Hahn said. 
"There has been no ruling by the court on the merits of the complaint 
in any way. ... This is an example of people on social media getting 
excited, passing along bad information and how quickly it can get out there."

The lawsuit in question was filed in Butte County Superior Court on 
Feb. 3 by San Rafael-based attorney Scot Candell, who is representing 
Donald Ehrsam, Raymond Sperry and Gina Endler of Oroville and Douglas 
Gunning of Berry Creek. Like many local medical marijuana advocates, 
the plaintiffs argue the ordinance is prohibitively restrictive and 
will prevent patients from accessing their medicine. Shortly after 
filing the lawsuit, Candell told the CN&R that Measure A "violates 
the spirit of [California's] Compassionate Use Act-that everyone can 
get their medicine, and everyone is treated equally."

But county officials contend there is no legal basis for the suit. 
County Counsel Bruce Alpert told the supervisors on Tuesday that he's 
confident the case won't hold up in court.

"There have been total bans on the cultivation of marijuana in 
various counties and cities; other jurisdictions have banned outdoor 
grows, or indoor grows," he said. "It's all over the map. But what's 
clear is that local jurisdictions have the authority to ban or limit 
the cultivation of medical marijuana."

In response to the lawsuit, the county filed a demurrer, essentially 
an objection to the charges that amounts to the county shrugging its 
shoulders and saying, "So what?" A court hearing on the demurrer is 
scheduled for the first week of May.

Based on the county's extensive education campaign called Stay in the 
Box and its hiring of six additional code enforcement officers to hit 
the foothills, it's clear that officials don't intend Measure A to be 
an empty law.

"We are vigorously enforcing Measure A," Alpert said. "It's in 
effect, it needs to be followed or people will be cited or brought to 
a hearing-meaning we'll get an order to remove all plants being grown 
outside the parameters of our ordinance. We're taking an aggressive 
stance on this."

Since Measure A was enacted Jan. 8, the county has investigated 
complaints on 74 marijuana gardens, mostly in the Oroville area, said 
Tim Snellings, director of Development Services. Code enforcement has 
issued 16 citations and handed down a total of $21,000 in fines. To 
date, only $3,800 has been collected-a fact that didn't sit well with 
Supervisor Larry Wahl.

"Where's the other $17,000?" he asked. "Are these guys deadbeats?"

"We're not ignoring those," Hahn responded. "We will continue to 
pursue those fines."

Measure A has seemingly driven marijuana cultivators indoors, 
Snellings said. In fact, every complaint the county has investigated 
this year has been of an indoor garden. Moving inside "seems like a 
logical reaction to Stay in the Box," he said.

Even so, several of the visits have led to criminal cases in which 
"hundreds of plants were present," Snellings said.

To date, sheriff's deputies accompanying code enforcement personnel 
on inspections have made five arrests related to illegal grows and 
have shut down two honey oil labs-operations involving potentially 
hazardous chemicals that are, for prosecutorial purposes, under the 
same section of health and safety code as methamphetamine labs, Ramsey said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom