After mistaken abatement notices, Humboldt County adjusts cannabis enforcement

Planning director: 'We refined a lot of things'

Earlier this month, authorities destroyed more than 2,000 cannabis plants and 85 pounds of process cannabis at a non-compliant cannabis grow in the Hyampom area. (Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office — Contributed)
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After a number of Humboldt County residents received notices to stop growing cannabis, they scrambled to prove that they didn’t — and they were successful.

Following their efforts, the county has adjusted its system of sending out abatement notices to people suspected of cultivating cannabis without their permits. The abatement notices still carry threats of $10,000-a-day fines after a 10-day period, but the issuing field official now has the authority to examine the property and retract the notice right away.

The county’s Planning and Building department is also shifting attention away from abatement and toward helping growers attempting to become compliant, said John Ford, the department’s director.

“We refined a lot of things,” Ford said. “We want to make sure that when we do post a notice, it is truly someone who has been engaged in cultivation.”

In the past fiscal year, the county still received more than $3.5 million in abatement revenue, an increase from the first two years of the legal era. The fiscal year ran from July 1, 2018 until June 30, 2019. In over two weeks since then, the county has received a few thousand dollars.

Ford said the county sent out 50 abatement notices over the past month, but large-scale enforcement efforts will begin to trend downward, he said.

“Frankly, one of the things we’re doing is refocusing a little bit,” he said. “What we’re seeing is there aren’t many of the large, egregious grows outside of the permit system.”

Abatement revenue goes into the county’s general fund. As of November 2018, the county had received $1.2 million in abatement revenue through the entire legal era. It had billed an additional $1 million that remained unpaid. Ford couldn’t elaborate Thursday how much money is yet to come in from growers who haven’t yet responded.

The county continues to track for suspected non-compliant grows with a satellite mapping software. Enforcement ramped up by 700% in 2018.

Meanwhile, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office stirred drug-war era anxiety earlier this month when low-flying National Guard helicopters circled the southern parts of the county in an effort to crack down on the “illicit” marijuana industry.

Farmer Tom O’Gorman, one of the Willow Creek farmers mistakenly sent an abatement notice last month, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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