MENDOCINO CO., 7/17/17 — Editor’s note: The following is an editorial from Jim Shields. Shields is the editor and publisher of the Mendocino County Observer and also manages the Laytonville County Water District; this is reprinted with his permission. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org. The opinions expressed in this article are Jim Shields’ and do not necessarily reflect any opinions of The Mendocino Voice. You can read more opinion pieces from Shields here.
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LAYTONVILLE, CA — For the past month, I’ve written a series of columns focusing on the out-of-control, seemingly unchecked proliferation of both outlaw mega-grows and unsightly hoop greenhouses throughout this county, but especially here in the north county area.
I’ve asked folks — both legit growers (who comprise the vast majority of county growers) and non-growing neighbors — of these monster grow sites to make their voices heard to the Supes, the regulators, and law enforcement.
At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting (July 11), it was obvious that the Board and the Sheriff not only heard us but were paying close attention as well.
The same holds true for the District Attorney who weighed in at an earlier BOS meeting, when he reminded them that under the pot ordinance an individual could grow no more than 100 plants.
To make a long story short, the Supes decided to re-open the ordinance they approved on May 4th. At their next meeting on July 18, they will take under consideration a number of proposed changes dealing specifically with the concerns of small marijuana growers, better known as the “moms and pops.” Please read Jane Futcher’s story in this week’s Observer as she does a great job covering those items. Here’s a summary of those small pot farmer issues the BOS will consider:
- approving non-commercial drying sheds;
- allowing wheelchair-accessible portable toilets instead of fully plumbed toilets;
- permitting neighborhoods such as Boonville Road’s Woodyglen to “opt out” of cannabis cultivation just as the smallest, Rural Residential-zoned neighborhoods where cultivation is now prohibited, may eventually “opt in” — via the “overlay” process.
- creating an independent, stand-alone cannabis manager position to coordinate the application process, which he said appears to be “overhwelming” the Ag Department.
As I’ve said all along, the single largest threat to the economic survivability of the mom and pop grower is not the regulatory and taxing frameworks of state and county marijuana legalization laws and ordinances. It’s the illegal mega grows crammed with thousands and thousands of marijuana plants, grown mostly by new-arrival outsiders who are driven by a single motive: Greed. They want it all and they want it now
Enforcement is the one thing that will save the small farmer.
Think about it.
The county could waive all fees and taxes, and do away with the permit process for the small farmers, but if the mega-growers go unchecked, the price of pot will plummet to the point where the small guys can’t make a living. They simply won’t be around to pay taxes, permit fees, and expenses associated with planning and building codes.
The Supervisors demonstrated this past Tuesday they understand the gravity of the situation.
Supervisor Carre Brown, from Potter Valley, called the mega growers “bandits” who are giving the county a “black eye” by “taking advantage of us.”
She said she was very dissatisfied with a process that was not protecting both growers and non-growers, referring to an ordinance that was enacted to protect the rights of all county residents. She recommended that the Board schedule future meetings where people can give direct input to supervisors on their concerns and problems related to marijuana issues.
At the morning session, Sheriff Tom Allman appeared to address the Board on his plan to resurrect a county ballot measure on mental funding. He also took time to tell the Board he was fully aware of what was occurring with the mega grows.
He emphatically stated, “The free reign of marijuana has to be reeled in.”
“People illegally growing marijuana in Mendocino County seem not to be aware the MCSO is still making them a priority,” said Allman, leaving little doubt that eradication is not just a threat but reality.
Here’s why enforcement of the cannabis ordinance is so important.
- Any law that is not enforced is not respected by people, and they will have a natural tendency not to comply with it. This is one of main reasons that folks are not complying with the cannabis ordinance.
As of July 10, only 580 individuals have applied for permits, and of those, only one has been approved. By conservative estimates there are probably 9,000 folks who grow marijuana in this county. Obviously, 580 applicants is an underwhelming response.
- Nor does it bode well for the economic survivability of the Northcoast’s long-established small growers.
As already discussed, if outlaw mega grows are not eradicated, that is pot that has but one destination: the black market. The more illegal pot that escapes to the black market, the deeper prices plunge in an already depressed market. It’s basic supply and demand that hurts, if not devastates, the small family farmer.
- If the ordinance is not enforced, it’s also inviting federal intervention. States with legalized marijuana laws were put on notice to that effect by the U.S. Dept. of Justice four years ago. According to an August 29, 2013 memorandum (“Guidance Regrading Marijuana Enforcement”), the Federales will generally ignore all things ganja in states with “a strong and effective regulatory and enforcement system” that is part-and-parcel of its legalization laws.
Another problem addressed at the meeting was the apparent lack of communication and coordination between the two local agencies — Dept. of Agriculture and Planning and Building — that are primarily responsible for administering the marijuana ordinance.
People have told me that when they have filed a complaint against a mega grower, P&B code enforcers have gone to site, inspected newly erected greenhouses stuffed with thousands of pot plants, signed off on the structures but ignored the glaring violation of the illegal plants, explaining that it’s not their job to eradicate.
Supervisor John McGowen spoke to this issue asking why aren’t people who are growing 15,000 to 20,000 plants not being told to eradicate them immediately? It was a rhetorical question.
The Board will consider at the July 18 meeting a proposal from the County Executive’s Office that should help resolve this problem. It’s an idea I first suggested last year.
When Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state’s medical marijuana law two years ago, he appointed Lori Ajax as the chief of the newly creasted Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation at the California Department of Consumer Affairs. Ajax had been chief deputy director at the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) since 2014, where she served in several positions since 1995, including deputy division chief, supervising agent in charge and supervising agent.
Brown had found a czar for the state’s medical marijuana program. With the legalization of recreational pot approved by voters in the November 2016 election, she now has taken on that responsibility also.
The county proposal for creating its own local cannabis czar includes creating a stand alone unit that presumably will oversee, monitor, and coordinate the administration of the local ordinance. It makes sense and if handled properly should solve a lot of the current problems with enforcement. But it is imperative, if this position is created, the person selected for it has a strong regulatory enforcement background. Ideally, it would be a Lorry Ajax-type from ABC since that agency comes closest to representing the kind of “stand alone” unit the county should be establishing.
If you solve those problems, then I believe it may lead the way to more growers making the decision to take the plunge and start applying for permits.
By the way, after this report was first published on July 13, I began receiving emails and telephone calls informing me that some of the mega growers have begun harvesting their crops and moving them to other sites for drying, apparently in immediate response to the Supes and Sheriff’s announcements about the imminent crackdown coming.
That’s good news.
Jim Shields is the editor and publisher of the Mendocino County Observer and also manages the Laytonville County Water District; this is reprinted with his permission. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org