Humboldt’s MMJ Program Like Mendo’s – September 20, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Daniel Mintz

Eye Correspondent

HUMBOLDT – The Board of Supervisors and county law enforcement officials have responded favorably to a presentation on a Mendocino County program that includes police inspections of larger medical marijuana grows.

Mendocino County officials were at the Sept. 6 supervisors’ meeting to describe their county’s program, which generally allows patients to grow up to 25 plants per parcel, indoors or outdoors.

For grows over 25 plants and up to 99 plants per parcel, Mendocino implements a fee-based program that requires an initial inspection from the Sheriff’s Office and additional third-party inspections paid for by applicants.

The inspections ensure that ordinance’s requirements – which call for controls on the size, setbacks, visibility and odor of grows – are being followed.

The Sheriff’s Office also does random inspections of the larger grows and issues zip-ties that are affixed to marijuana plants and cost $50 each.

Mendocino County Supervisor John McCowen said the goal is to “devise a bright line” between legal grows and those that are questionable.

“The more people we can get on the side of the line that says, ‘You are as legal as you can be under state and local law,’ the fewer problems we have for law enforcement, the fewer resources we have to spend going out arresting and prosecuting, and there’s greater peace of mind for the patients and cultivators,” he told supervisors.

The ordinance process was “complaint-driven,” McCowen continued, but since its implementation, “Complaints have dropped off pretty much to nothing.”

Humboldt Sheriff Mike Downey said local regulation is the best way to handle medical marijuana production. The U.S. Attorney’s Office consistently warns otherwise but Downey is unfazed.

“I can tell you right now, I see no enforcement at the federal level,” he said, adding that the Drug Enforcement Agency’s San Francisco-based marijuana squad has been disbanded.

A small group of DEA agents work out of Santa Rosa but Downey said that “we never see them up here.” He, too, has been warned by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he continued, but “I see no enforcement behind any of that.”

State drug task forces are also being dismantled, Downey said. “This has become a local issue,” he told supervisors.

District Attorney Paul Gallegos said he hopes a Mendocino-like ordinance will be adopted here, although he recommended using square footage limits rather than plant counts.

“You have a working framework that the county can readily adopt, one that gives the Sheriff’s Office parameters and gives us tools that we don’t currently have,” he continued. “Currently, what we have is a vacuum of regulation.”

Representatives of the Humboldt Growers Association also said they support Mendocino’s approach.

Supervisors voted to have county department heads meet with the Board’s Medical Marijuana Subcommittee to talk about adoption of a program similar to Mendocino’s.