It was just over one year ago, in late October of 2012, when a United States federal grand jury issued a subpoena to Mendocino County in Northern California to hand over financial documents pertaining to the county’s short-lived, but highly lucrative medical marijuana ordinance, known locally as the 9.31 program.
Those financial documents, thought to be confidential and secure under the local ordinance and California state laws, contained the personal information of Mendocino County marijuana growers who believed that they were doing the right thing by signing up under the program. Threats and strong-arming from the federal government ultimately led to the program being scrapped entirely months before the original document dump in 2012.
Last month, the Mendocino County legal team announced that the feds weren’t done in NorCal, confirming that yet another demand for documents was made at the end of September and that once again, the county was forced to comply, sending an undisclosed amount of “unredacted county records concerning the 9.31 program” to the federal government for review.
When it all went down a year ago, the news was met with mixed reaction of “Oh shit!” and “I told ya so…” in the cannabis community, as folks like us are typically hesitant to voluntarily sign our names on forms at the police station. The raid on private, personal information justified many tokers’ biggest fears about the fine line between state and federal laws.
Now, more than a full year after the program was obliterated by federal intervention, those fears have been rekindled with the latest demands.
Established in 2010, the 9.31 program allowed registered participants, often collectives themselves, to grow up to 99 plants instead of the typical 25-plant-per-parcel max imposed on the rest of the county’s residents.
The program was administered by the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, who by way of selling $25 zip ties to growers to identify registered plants, and collecting the various fees associated with the program, banked over $600,000 in the 22 short months it was in charge of overseeing the progressive regulatory system.
To their credit, Mendocino County fought the 2012 federal injunction tooth and nail, hiring high-powered lawyers and filing motions to shred the federal subpoena(s) on the grounds that they were “overbroad and burdensome”, and an “improper intrusion” by the federal government on a state and municipality’s abilities and rights to govern their own citizens.
In January of this year, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors went so far as to reclassify all 9.31-related documents as confidential.
Judging by their latest demand, this time specifying “unredacted” documents, the feds may have a different definition of “confidential”.
They have demanded communications records between growers and county-assigned inspectors, as well as communications between county Board of Supervisors members, themselves.
Is the grand jury looking for names?Are they actively pursuing certain individuals?
Nobody can, or will, say for sure. Mendocino County Counsel Tom Parker stated bluntly, “These guys don’t share with us, and they don’t have to share with us what they’re looking for.”
Adam Wolf, the San Francisco-based attorney representing Emerald Growers Association and Americans for Safe Access, got right to the point in his statement regarding the scare tactics being employed by the feds, telling the Los Angeles Times, “The message this sends to people across the state trying to comply in good faith with medical marijuana regulations is that they should operate below ground. That’s the last thing the government should do.”
Growers who complied with, and participated in, the 9.31 program installed mandatory security fencing and surveillance systems, agreed to four inspections each year, and handed over annual permit fees of $6,450 – plus the $25 zip ties.
Their willingness to play by the exclusive new rules led to a sharp decline in illegal trespassing and deforestation associated with off-the-grid outlaw growing operations that had begun to flood the unregulated region.
Despite the fact that the very first farmer to register in the program, Joy Greenfield (awesome name), had her farm instantly raided by federal DEA agents, 17 more fearless farmers followed her in the first year, with another 91 the year after that. Their efforts bolstered the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office with well over a half a million dollars in funds that they could then use to fight real crime in the area.
Those trailblazers have now been thanked by having all of their personal information repeatedly seized by the federal government which still lists marijuana somewhere between heroin and peyote.
Worse yet, county officials concede that they are currently pulling evens more documents, anticipating future demands from the federal grand jury, and revealing little confidence in their ability to endure further assault.