Pubdate: Wed, 01 Jun 2016
Source: Union, The (Grass Valley, CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Union
Author: Liz Kellar


Every year since the county first enacted a marijuana cultivation 
ordinance, Nevada County Sheriff's deputies have complained that few 
growers have sought to come into compliance - and that perception 
hasn't changed.

"Nobody wants to follow the ordinance," said Sheriff's Lt. Bill 
Smethers, who oversees the Narcotics Task Force. "They don't care.

"All we're doing is asking people to comply with the ordinance," 
Smethers said. "We're willing to work with people and educate them. 
But you've got people thumbing their nose at the county."

Last year, there were allegations that growers were moving into 
Nevada County because of limitations in surrounding counties; that 
perceived increase in part drove the more restrictive cultivation 
ordinance put in place in January of this year.

The ban on outdoor grows - and the 12-plant indoor limit - 
theoretically is going to make enforcement easier because it is clear 
that growing outside is forbidden.

But Sheriff's Lt. Bill Smethers, who oversees the Narcotics Task 
Force, said his deputies aren't seeing any increased compliance. And 
he suggested there might be active efforts to derail enforcement efforts.

"We've heard rumors of (growers) inundating the county with 
marijuana, to prove that NCSO can't enforce the ordinance," he said.

Smethers maintained that enforcement was going to be a priority for 
his office, adding that they started enforcement earlier this season 
and are using a fixed-wing small plane more often because it is much 
cheaper - $200 an hour versus $900 an hour for helicopters.

Last week, the Narcotics Task Force served several criminal warrants 
based on over-flights.

In the 24000 block of Snow Tent Road, the task force reportedly found 
578 plants on a parcel with a greenhouse grow and an outdoor grow. At 
an adjoining site, near Tyler Foote Crossing and Cruzon Grade roads, 
they found 205 plants; neither parcel had a legal residence.

According to Smethers, a man onsite was caretaking for two separate 
property owners in exchange for a place to grow; there were 18 
recommendations from a collective.

"We walked away from (nearly) 800 plants," Smethers said. "But we cited them."

At a third grow in the 14000 block of Owl Creek Road, off Jones Bar 
Road, deputies reportedly found 250 plants covered by four 
recommendations, and evidence of a dismantled butane honey oil lab 
and old butane canisters. The property owner was cited, the lab was 
seized, and charges were forwarded to the District Attorney's office, 
Smethers said.

On Friday, the Sheriff's Office offered ridealongs in the plane it is 
using for over-flights to a reporter from The Union, Supervisor Dan 
Miller, and a member of county counsel's staff.

Grows were spotted all over during an hour-long flight that covered 
Penn Valley and Lake Wildwood, up through the San Juan Ridge area, to 
Scotts Flat Lake and through the Greenhorn canyon and Rollins Lake. 
Perhaps because it is so early in the season, one big difference 
noted from a 2012 over-flight was a greater number of hoop houses and 

Miller, who said it was the first time he had gone on an over-flight, 
said the sight of so many grows made him "almost speechless."

"They're so visible, and so bold," he commented. "I realized .. what 
a big task it's going to be if (Measure W) passes. Their work is cut 
out for them."

Miller said he believed enforcement needed to be consistent, adding, 
"I walked away shaking my head."

On a recent ridealong, Sheriff's Deputy Matt Morgan was kept busy on 
a handful of complaints during an overtime shift. Of the three he 
handled that morning, two required him to post notices on locked gates.

Morgan estimated he runs into locked gates about 90 percent of the 
time. According to Smethers, deputies will post a request for 
contact. If they get no response, the Sheriff's office will 
eventually conduct a flyover of the property.

At the third compliance check, at a small farm off Greenhorn Road, 
the complaint cited 40 to 50 plants behind a residence. The owners of 
the property said they had grown the year before, and took Morgan to 
see the unused grow site. They told him they had no plans to grow 
this year because of the outdoor ban.

Morgan did discover several small plants in pots stashed in a fenced 
garden to the side of the house, and the owners chose to 
"self-abate," ripping the plants out and handing them to the deputy to destroy.

"We got a lot of complaints at the beginning of the year," Smethers 
said. "People grew there before so the neighbors want to get at the 
top of the list. We didn't start inspecting until the end of March. 
We gave it some time, due to the weather. We're just seeing plants 
going in. Greenhouses are the big thing; we see them popping up everywhere."

According to Smethers, his deputies are seeing so many grows they 
could conduct compliance checks 24-7 all year long. The citations now 
are much quicker to issue, he said, because deputies don't have to 
spend as much time measuring grows - they just have count the 12 legal plants.

Abatements, Smethers said, will be to get any grows into compliance, 
to 12 plants indoors and no outdoor plants.

"We're not trying to be heavy-handed," he said.

"Some growers are complying," Smethers added. "We've had a lot of 
people saying they had no idea (there was an outdoor ban). They 
thought it went into effect after the election (in June) ... It's 
frustrating. The growers that come out and say they want to work with 
us, a lot of them aren't."

Smethers said the Sheriff's office is hoping to simplify the process 
even further, possibly streamlining and shortening the appeal and 
abatement process.

"Doing away with outdoor grows is not going to affect the economy," 
Smethers said. "This county has been around a long time. It's not 
going to destroy Nevada County - it will be a better quality of life, 
for people to enjoy the community."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom