Ukiah Daily Journal
Mendocino County sheriff Tom Allman spoke Monday, Nov. 26 about the subpoena the county received in late October from the U.S. attorney’s office for records the county keeps regarding its medical marijuana ordinance.
"In the fall of 2010, I met with U.S. attorney Melinda Haag, and I told her everything about the 9.31 process that I could: the public hearings, the board (of supervisors) votes," Allman said. "She didn’t have any kind of concern at the time (about) the program."
While it’s still not clear to him why the federal authorities want the records, Allman noted that the county’s now-canceled permitting program for collectives to grow up to 99 medical marijuana plants never guaranteed the applicants immunity from federal prosecution.
"We’re going to comply with the subpoena," Allman said, adding that while he couldn’t reveal what kind of records it specifies, the subpoena covers all records pertaining to the county’s medical marijuana cultivation ordinance, county code 9.31. "We’ve collected everything and delivered it to the county counsel’s office, and that’s where we are."
Other county officials confirmed that a federal grand jury had issued the subpoena to the Mendocino County auditor-controller’s office for records of funds paid to the county under its medical marijuana ordinance, county code 9.31.
Until March, the Mendocino County sheriff’s office issued permits under 9.31 for collectives wanting to grow up to 99 marijuana plants, an exemption to the county’s 25-plant limit.
The county stopped issuing the permits and reverted to the 25-plant limit for all growers after the U.S. attorney’s office threatened to file an injunction against the county’s medical marijuana cultivation ordinance and seek legal action against county officials who supported it.
Under 9.31, the MCSO still sells zip ties for $25 apiece, which can be affixed to plants to show they are grown in compliance with state law.
In 2011, the sheriff’s office received 95 permit applications and approved 91 of them. The permit fees started in late June of 2010, and while the permits issued that year were fewer, Allman said the numbers were "not a lot different." The popular permitting program garnered 10 applications and $30,000 in zip ties less than a month after the board of supervisors approved the fees for it.
"As far as the sheriff’s office is concerned, every dollar we’ve taken in has a paper trail," Allman said. Receipts for the $25 zip ties and $1,500 permit for collectives to grow up to 99 plants went to the auditor’s office, he said.
Collectives applying for the permit had to provide the applicants’ names, mailing addresses, physical addresses, phone numbers, driver’s license numbers and doctors’ recommendations for all patients for whom the medical marijuana was to be grown, among other information, and had to be inspected.
"The difference between eradication and this [permitting program] was that this allowed monthly inspection to ensure compliance with state law, and they paid us to do it," Allman said of the now-canceled program.
Anyone who applied for the 99-plant permit also had to sign a waiver releasing the county from liability arising from the application or enforcement of the permit’s conditions, and agreeing that the signer understood that the permit would comply with state law and that it did "not confer upon (the applicant) and/or managers, employees and members of the collective immunity from prosecution under federal law."
Allman said his department has always been "transparent and clear," but that the recent cancellation of the permitting program and the federal subpoena muddies the already murky waters around marijuana law.
"This increases the gray area of medical marijuana, and the more gray area we have, the more time it takes to investigate marijuana grows," Allman said. "Until we get to a point where the laws are black and white, we’re going to continue to have a lot of misunderstanding about what the voters’ intent was in the passage of Proposition 215 (the compassionate use act of 1996)."
All that said, Allman said he isn’t worried about what the federal authorities will find in Mendocino County’s medical marijuana ordinance records.
"In my heart I know they’re going to find nothing wrong," he said. "I guess they’re going to have to find that out themselves."
Regarding how recent federal activity affects future regulatory efforts for medical marijuana in Mendocino County, Allman said he hopes something good comes of it.
"There is a haze over the 9.31 discussion," Allman said. "I welcome it. I’ve been asking the U.S. attorney’s office for four years for more clear direction on marijuana."
Tiffany Revelle can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @TiffanyRevelle or at 468-3523.