MODESTO — Mendocino County, like a lot of counties in California, has a serious marijuana problem. Commercial growers with ties to organized crime have invaded the Mendocino National Forest, making parts of this beautiful backcountry unsafe for the public.
Federal authorities are responding to this threat, but not to the degree many north state residents would like to see. What is apparent, unfortunately, is the time and resources federal prosecutors are devoting to a legal battle with Mendocino County. As The Sacramento Bee reported Jan. 4, a federal grand jury has subpoenaed all records kept by Mendocino County as part of its program to license medical marijuana growers.
Mendocino County set up this program in 2010 in response to California's medical marijuana law. The program requires growers to accept limits on the number of plants grown, undergo inspections, and install fences and security cameras. In 2010 and 2011, nearly 100 pot farmers were granted county permits to grow as many as 99 plants. An additional 400 were issued those years for growers with fewer than 25 plants.
Faced with warnings from federal prosecutors, Mendocino County stopped issuing more permits in March. But at the urging of the office of Melinda Haag, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, a federal grand jury in October subpoenaed county records of licensed growers.
The county is attempting to quash the subpoena, calling it "burdensome and oppressive." Supporters of the program say that if federal prosecutors are successful, they will drive Mendocino's pot growers underground, adding to the potential for violence.
In the November election, Colorado and Washington state legalized recreational use of marijuana. Asked about it in December, Obama said, "It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it's legal."
If it doesn't make sense to go after recreational users, why are federal prosecutors going after a California county that is attempting to comply with a much less expansive state law pertaining to medical marijuana? Is this equal application of the law?