Locals Wary of U.S. Probe Into Medical Pot Growers

     UKIAH, Calif. (CN) - Secret details about a subpoena concerning the medical marijuana program in Mendocino County finally went public in a local newspaper this week.
     Although federal authorities served the subpoena in October, they reportedly teamed up with local officials in creating a wall of silence on the issue, the Ukiah Daily Journal said.
     An editor for the paper said the journal eventually filed a Public Records Act request with the county to free up the document.
     The subpoena was reportedly issued to Auditor-Controller Meredith Ford, County Fiscal Manager Norman Thurston, Sheriff Tom Allman and Sheriff's Capt. Randy Johnson.
     Johnson oversaw the county's medical marijuana program, according to the paper,
     On Oct. 17, Courthouse News reported that federal authorities seized approximately 500 marijuana plants in a raid on property owned by the captain's family.
     Kym Kemp, a writer for two Mendocino area blogs, Lost Coast Outpost and Readheaded Blackbelt, has been observing the tension between federal authorities and Mendocino County officials regarding the medical marijuana ordinance.
     Kemp told Courthouse News that the subpoena could set a precedent that allows federal authorities to fish more deeply into the bank records of medical growers.
     Although she declined to speculate as to whether federal prosecutors would go after growers that operate within the bounds of Mendocino law, she noted that there are differing views within the legal community about the legality of such prosecutions.
     The Emerald Growers Association notes, for example, that a Washington court prevented federal authorities from accessing medical marijuana patient records, Kemp said.
     Representatives for the pro-cannabis group were not available to comment by press time.
     As reprinted by the Ukiah Daily Journal on Tuesday, the subpoena demands "copies of all records for the following individuals, programs, entities, account numbers, and communications for the period January 1, 2010 to the present: Emails, letters, and any other communications on the Mendocino County 'Medical Marijuana Cultivation Regulation,' also known as the '9.31 Medical Marijuana Regulations,' to include Third Party Inspectors and Mendocino County Board of Supervisors."
     Prosecutors also want "records of inspections, applications, and communications, to include e-mails, with Mendocino County 9.31 Program permit applicants, permit holders, and inspectors," and "financial account numbers for funds received through the program."
     These "individuals, programs, entities" include the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office, Mendocino County District Attorney's Office, Mendocino County, and the, "Mendocino County 'Medical Marijuana Cultivation Zip-Tie' provision also known as the Marijuana Plant Zip-Tie Program," according to the newspaper.
     Under the Zip-Tie Program, which the county reportedly canceled in March, growers could show compliance with local law by affixing zip-ties on their plans. The ties had cost $25 apiece, and could be affixed to a maximum of 99 plants. Mendocino has since reverted to its previous 25-plant limit for all growers, according to the Daily Journal.
     Prosecutors refused to give immunity to growers who used to have zip-tie permits, the paper reported last week.
     Some California attorneys have offered pro bono assistance to Mendocino County in the event of a legal battle with the federal government, Kemp told Courthouse News.
     The Ukiah Daily Journal reported Tuesday that "half a dozen attorneys" had offered the county pro bono help. Fifth District Supervisor Dan Hamberg told the paper, "we welcome that help."
     Hamberg reportedly spoke to the paper after a special closed-door meeting of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors to discuss the subpoena with County Counsel Tom Parker.
     At that meeting, the board directed Parker to "hire and retain outside counsel and to take appropriate action," according to the paper.
     "The closed-session announcement regarding the subpoena followed more than half an hour of public comment from people involved in the medical marijuana industry locally, all urging the county to withhold personal information from any of the applicants," the paper reported.
     
      Officials Mum on Medical Pot Subpoena