Who’s on first, and who’s in charge of medical cannabis cultivation?
So, we had this incident out in rural Winters, California, and what appeared at first to be a straight-up story about a raid on a marijuana grow has become quite complicated. Trying to make sense of all the moving parts is like listening to that classic Abbot and Costello “Who’s On First” routine. Your brain gets scrambled just trying to keep up.
Our story begins with a locally well-known and respected farmer who decided to take advantage of Yolo County’s decision to allow medical marijuana cultivation. He had no experience with this crop, but had heard testimonies from people with a variety of medical conditions whose discomfort was greatly alleviated by medical cannabis. So, he decided to give it a shot himself, and also leased another small portion of his property to an experienced grower.
The grower says he had Yolo County’s blessing, and was good to go. However, a nosy neighbor didn’t approve of this new venture and alerted authorities.
Here’s where it gets tricky.
For whatever reason, the alerted authorities were from Placer County, not Yolo. The federally funded agency, called “Trident,” was authorized by a Yolo County Judge to proceed with the raid, and apparently someone at YONET (Yolo County’s own drug enforcement agency) was also notified, but nobody bothered to cross-check and see if this grower was amongst the 200 growers currently permitted to grow medical cannabis in Yolo County.
According to the grower, Trident stormed the property, with approximately 30-40 armed law enforcement officers in bullet-proof vests, and proceeded to detain two individuals who were merely renting a home on the grower’s property and had nothing to do with the marijuana. They were held face down on the ground, at gunpoint. The officers then proceeded to kick in the door of the grower’s home and cuffed him, despite the fact that he was cooperating completely. They searched his house, found nothing of interest, released everyone, cut down the lessee’s marijuana, and left.
But here’s the kicker: No one was arrested. If something is illegal… shouldn’t somebody get arrested? Particularly if the situation is serious enough to warrant a huge raid and hold people at gunpoint? What the heck? Was it illegal or not?
I spoke with the Trident officer in charge. He knew the grower had county permits, but was missing some state paperwork. When asked if he knew that this was clearly a medical cannabis grow and not an illegal recreational grow, he said yes. I then asked him why, if he knew this was merely a paperwork issue, didn’t he simply issue the grower a notice to get the paperwork straight within 30 days rather than go tearing through the property.
“Because we had a warrant.”
Translation: Because we can.
I guess “What we have the right to do” and “What’s right to do” is lost on some people.
I spoke with Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig about the Winters raid, and he pointed out that prior to the legalization of medical cannabis cultivation, law enforcement’s only paradigm for dealing with marijuana grows includes criminals, guns, dogs and potential injury or death for officers. Fair enough. Law enforcement is only trained to slay dragons. But they have no protocol for dealing with the harmless little yard lizards created by the legalization of medical cannabis cultivation. They still treat them like fire-breathing monsters. Clearly, a shift in how law enforcement deals with people who think they’re obeying the law is desperately in order.
That said, how can law enforcement figure out how to respond when the state says something’s legal, but the feds disagree? Under federal law, marijuana is in the same classification as heroin and LSD, and illegal for all uses, including medical. But the federal government enforces the law based upon which way the wind is blowing that day. One day, they’re whistling and looking the other way, the next they’re closing down “legal” medical cannabis shops. How can anyone make sense of this?
Moreover, how can states legalize medical (let alone recreational) cannabis at all if it’s illegal under federal law? How can counties interpret the law independently and cross over into another county to enforce their version? Who’s in charge?
As for counties issuing cultivation permits, shouldn’t they be required to provide growers up front with a checklist showing the necessary state permits and whatever else is required? And shouldn’t agencies from other jurisdictions be required to check the permit list before storming in? There’s an obvious paper trail that could be created, so I ask again: Who’s in charge?
Besides Reisig, I contacted Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor about the big raid, and he’s none too pleased about how it all went down. Likewise for Assemblyman Bill Dodd. All three are clearly frustrated with the convoluted state of medical cannabis cultivation laws, and I was impressed with the quick, attentive and thorough response from all three. These guys have my vote.
Reisig suggested that the state Attorney General should provide clarity for citizens and law enforcement alike. Agreed. The state is the logical entity to bridge the gap between local and federal law, particularly since it’s the state that is declaring medical cannabis cultivation and use legal. That said, if Proposition 64 passes, making recreational marijuana legal, all the puzzle pieces get thrown into the air.
In addition to local authorities, I also met with Congressman John Garamendi about this issue, along with the Winters grower, but Garamendi didn’t offer much. He said there’s been discussion of removing marijuana from the Schedule 1 list, but it’s not a priority. His advice for the grower was “Be careful.”
That’s it? Be careful?
Who’s in charge? Somebody resurrect Abbot and Costello to figure it out.
In the meantime, I’m still plugging away on this story, piece by piece. But for now, the bottom line is this: Growing allegedly legal medical marijuana is like the Wild Wild West. Everything’s fine until a bunch of cowboys with guns shows up.