Editor’s note: Word of these events reached The Mendocino Voice late Saturday night. This situation is developing, and many specifics remain murky. We expect to continue to update and clarify tomorrow and Monday. If you have any additional information please contact us at: [email protected]
MENDOCINO CO., 3/05/17 — Official letters indicating that a key component of the most recent cannabis cultivation permitting rules has been suspended were sent to several Mendocino County cannabis growers, their attorneys, or third party inspectors on Friday.
Interviews with officials in county government and the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), have confirmed that significant portions the program have been suspended. No further zip-ties will be issued this year, and permits for the urgency ordinance exemption program will not be renewed — in other words, the county’s law will de facto revert to the old 25 plant program until the supervisors pass a new cultivation ordinance, which will likely be administered by the Ag Department.
Because of the complicated and sometimes ad hoc process of passing these rules and ordinances the names can be a bit confusing. The most recent rules are often referred to as the “urgency ordinance,” and thought of as the successor to the original “zip-tie program." Likewise the details of this story are complex and convoluted, but the ramification of these actions could be profound.
A series of letters forwarded to The Mendocino Voice, and interviews with three of the four sitting supervisors, in addition to officials in the MCSO, and growers themselves, have confirmed the broad outlines of the new situation.
The supervisors expect to pass an new cultivation ordinance by April, allowing the county to begin accepting applications for medical cannabis cultivation licenses for farms growing in excess of 25 plants in May. However, though the supervisors themselves are hopeful, it is not a certainty that any law will pass, and until then, growers will remain in a confusing limbo — right at the beginning of the spring planting and planning season.
When contacted for comment Saturday evening, supervisors Dan Gjerde, and Dan Hamburg, expressed surprise, saying that they were not aware of the change. However, Supervisor John McCowen indicated that he had been told “recently” about the change. He elaborated in an email, "It's very unfortunate that we have a gap in our permitting program. I understand why people are concerned but people who are trying to get permits are most likely not a priority for enforcement. County staff and the Board of Supervisors are doing everything we can to get our new program in place but we need to do it right."
McCowen said that county staff are hope to present the new cultivation ordinance to the supervisors on March 21, and he hopes for final adoption in early April. If approved at that time, he said, it would take effect 30 days later, adding "I expect the Ag Commissioner will be super busy once we start accepting applications." The Board of Supervisors has directed county staff to, in the future, allow growers who submit an application that meets whatever requirements exist in the final ordinance, to be allowed to cultivate while their application is being processed.
According to the letter, zip-ties and permit renewals are to be halted under the urgency ordinance exemption program as the county currently lacks legal authority to renew permits according to the settlement agreement made last June with the Black Tail Deer Association, which also abruptly closed the window to enroll to within 48 hours of the settlement. The letter states the county is in the processing of finalizing a Medical Cannabis Cultivation Regulations (MCCR) under the Ag Department. which will supercede 9.31 and is expected to be approved in April. The urgency ordinance was set to sunset in June, 2017 unless a new set of regulations superseded it.
Lt. Shannon Barney of MCSO stated he was unaware of the changes, but that he did not expect an increase in enforcement for those working within compliance regulations. Neither Undersheriff Randy Johnson, nor Capt. Greg Van Patten could be reached for comment. Johnson has been in charge of the 9.31 urgency ordinance permit program and one of the letters canceling the program, that has been circulating, has his signature.
Supervisor Hamburg stated that he had spoken with Supervisor McCowen and County CEO Carmel Angelo in the last several days and neither had mentioned it; he also said he had spoken with his daughter (who is enrolled in the 9.31 program, and is the reason he has recused himself) within an hour of the interview and that she had not mentioned it either.
One of the letters, that appears to be signed by Undersheriff Johnson states, “All cannabis cultivators are required to comply with the current Chapter 9.31 Ordinance and all other applicable state and local laws.” Cultivators are reminded that those in the 9.31 exemption program will receive priority permit processing when enrolling in the yet-to-be finalized ag department program.
It is not clear whether cultivators are any longer able to substitute square footage for plant count, as a method of tallying allowable cultivation, as such substitutions were permitted by the 9.31 exemption program. Under the urgency ordinance registered growers were allowed to grow more than 25 plants if they met the conditions. Given this change, it is no longer clear if that is allowed — or if it will soon cease to be allowed.
This article has been updated and edited for clarity.
By Kate Maxwell
Reporting contributed by Sarah Reith