October 14, 2011
Federal drug agents raided the marijuana grow garden of Northstone Organics in Mendocino County yesterday morning, according to a press release sent out by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in San Francisco confirmed the raid, but could not comment further as the case is still open.
No arrests were made.
“Northstone is a successful example of how a dispensary can follow the laws correctly and I think the feds are scared that the Mendocino program is actually working,” says California NORML Coordinator Dale Gieringer. “Several nearby counties are looking to start similar programs to run outdoor gardens.”
The program Gieringer refers to is Mendocino County's innovative "zip-tie,” which helps dispensaries license outdoor gardens to grow medical marijuana. Mendicino County code allows a person with a doctor's recommendation to grow up to 25 plants per parcel, or for cooperatives to get a permit from the Sheriff's Office to grow up to 99 plants per parcel. Growers can also purchase zip ties to attach to plants to show that they are grown according to the County’s regulations.
A patient with a standard medical marijuana card can purchase up to six zip-ties, while more can be purchased with an amended doctor’s recommendation. A zip-tied plant works similar to a prescription bottle, where it shows the legitimacy of a plant grown for medical usage that is approved by the local government.
One proponent of the program is Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman who in April 2011 saw over $300,000 come in from grow permits, according to an article written in May 2011 in The Ukiah Daily Journal.
“Allman has been a positive proponent of the program, because he recognizes that marijuana is good for economy in Mendicino County,” says Gieringer.
Monterey County currently does not have any dispensaries; Santa Cruz County has many, but has yet to be affected by Federal crackdowns.
“We don’t have any large grow operations in Santa Cruz County and perhaps that is why the federal authorities haven’t been here,” says Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Department Lt. Craig Wilson.
Even if the feds were to raid a dispensary in Santa Cruz, Wilson says the Sheriff’s Department would not hear about it until it was about to happen.
“Law enforcement's role on a local level is fairly neutral,” he says. “We’re not really involved in those ordinances. It’s a land-use issue.”
Wilson’s co-worker Sgt. Mark Yanez oversees the department’s Narcotics Enforcement Team and says the biggest problem with many dispensaries is control over legal buyers.
“They’re not monitored and they’re not regulated. It is a business of money,” he says. “If most of these businesses were following federal laws and paying taxes, the DEA would not be cracking down. Most of these places are in it purely for the money.”
He also thinks citizen complaints may be connected to the recent raids.
“The reason the feds are cracking down in that people are complaining about it,” says Yanez. “My office get 10 ties more calls for marijuana that methamphetamine or other drugs. It has gotten out of hand in California,” he says.
Attorneys in Monterey County are also dealing with the legal issues surrounding medical marijuana laws.
“It is the reversal of policy,” says Salinas-based lawyer Richard Rosen, a member of the legal committee for NORML for over 30 years. “President Obama campaigned on the federal government not interfering with state laws regarding medical marijuana.”
Rosen believes that these recent crackdowns on state laws are a futile attempt.
“There is no hope of this new policy ever working. It is the new prohibition,” he says. “What happens is that it won’t be legal, regulated or controlled, but people will still be doing it underground.”