Mendocino County's unique income-generating medical marijuana cultivation permit process has been suspended, officials announced Jan. 9. The decision was made in light of a Southern California court case that challenges the legality of issuing permits for activities that are illegal under federal law.
Citing potential legal liabilities, county counsel has advised the sheriff to suspend the permits this year, pending the outcome of Pack v. Superior Court of Los Angeles. A state appellate court ruled in that case that the permitting process in Long Beach exceeded local government authority. It has been appealed to the California supreme court.
The popular Mendocino permits allowed cannabis collectives to grow up to 99 plants under a fee structure that includes inspections and zip-tie identification markers for each plant. The annual permit application and initial inspection cost $1,500, with each zip tie issued costing $50. Monthly inspections cost from $300 to $600 a month. Last year, 94 people signed up for the program, which generated $663,230 for the Sheriff's Office in July through December, officials said.
The permits have been a hit among growers, but there are a few dissidents. The program "only taxed the sick," said Jim Hill, a member of the Mendocino Medical Marijuana Advisory Board, who compared it to "installing parking meters only on handicapped spaces."
Federal authorities have raided at least two cooperatives that had Mendocino County permits. The federal search warrant for Northstone Organics in Redwood Valley included a photo of a banner with the permit number, which is visible from the air, said cooperative founder Matt Cohen.
Supervisor John McCowen protested a federal crackdown on patients trying to negotiate confused medical marijuana laws. "The intent seems to be to drive medical marijuana back underground and destroy the attempts of local governments to regulate medical marijuana consistent with state law in a way that best protects public safety and the environment," McCowen said.
The California Supreme Court has until Feb. 8 to decide whether to hear the Pack case. The dispute stems from a challenge a Long Beach ordinance requiring permits for cannabis collectives. Like Mendocino County, Long Beach charged fees for its permits. It has since repaid permit holders an estimated $700,000. "I don't want our county to be in that situation," said Mendocino County Counsel Jeanine Nadel. (Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Jan. 9)