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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Two N. California Cities Rethink Ordinances|in Response to Federal Pot Crackdown

EUREKA, Calif. (CN) - Eureka and Arcata are rethinking their medical marijuana ordinances after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency began enforcing federal law against California marijuana dispensaries, and a California appeals court struck down an ordinance licensing dispensaries, the Eureka Times-Standard reported Oct. 20.

Arcata's city council voted Wednesday to allow the processing and denial of applications for medical marijuana dispensaries, collectives and industrial-size grow operations, but not allow permit approvals, according to the paper. The council said it "still needed clarity on whether or not the city could be criminally liable should the federal government decide to take legal action," the paper reported.

Eureka's city council announced Thursday that it will reconsider instituting a marijuana dispensary permit moratorium, after rejecting the idea Oct. 4, the Times-Standard reported. Since the Oct. 4 decision, council members had been informed of a California appeals court decision striking down a Long Beach ordinance licensing dispensaries, saying it conflicted with federal drug laws, the Times-Standard reported.

On Oct. 7, California's four U.S. attorneys announced they would aggressively prosecute the state's medical marijuana dispensaries, which are operating in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act, according to the Times-Standard. The U.S. attorneys already had notified many California dispensaries that they must shut down, and notified property owners that the federal government may seize property being used against federal law.

On Oct. 13, U.S. DEA agents wielded machine guns to serve a warrant on Matthew Cohen's residence and rip out his 99 pot plants, which had been permitted by Mendocino County, the Press Democrat reported Oct. 14. Cohen, whose crop was a model of compliance with the county ordinance, ran a service that delivered medical marijuana to its clients, according to the KQED News Web site. Since it was harvest time for the outdoor crop, Cohen is effectively out of business for the year. The DEA may have targeted Cohen because he was becoming well known, through medical marijuana documentaries and published stories, reported the Press Democrat.

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California Benjamin Wagner gave an explanation of the efforts on his Web site:

"In our federal enforcement efforts, we are targeting operations involved in the commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana, not sick people. Prosecutors in my office, for example, recently indicted a lawyer from Los Angeles who was charged with conspiring to make millions of dollars by financing industrial marijuana grows in numerous locations. We also recently charged two men in Fresno who operated highly profitable marijuana stores. They had installed an ATM in one store, and one of the defendants told investigators they were making $30,000 to $50,000 per day selling marijuana. In another recent case, several men who claimed to be growing marijuana for medical purposes under California law are alleged to have shipped it to distributors in other states. Bank account records indicated that they had received deposits totaling almost $3 million at bank branches in Connecticut."

Indoor marijuana growing operations have been in the news since the U.S. attorneys' announcement. To hide from the federal government, marijuana cultivators often have brought their operations indoors, hiking up electrical bills and leaving a huge carbon footprint, according to Oct. 7 and 9 Times-Standard stories.

Some indoor cultivators have even abused the California discount program for low income households, according to an Oct. 9 Times-Standard story. As an example, one recently busted operation used more than 4,500 kilowatt hours of electricity in a given month, which is roughly 10 times average consumption, but the operators only paid $535 of an almost $1,500 electric bill that month, according to the Times-Standard. Out of 20 grow house search warrants the Arcata Police Department has served over the last two years, at least 70 percent have been enrolled in the discount program, Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman told the Times-Standard. In addition to keeping grow lights on, a grow house may use power to run air conditioners, dehumidifiers, fans, filters to hide odors, and pumps to water the plants, according to an Oct. 7 Times-Standard article.

Some pot cultivators in the Eureka/Arcata area would like to work on having more efficient grows, and to make other cultivators be more effieicnt, too. People are afraid to be noticed, with the feds watching so closely, however, according to the Times-Standard.

Sixteen states have laws allowing patients with doctors' recommendations to use pot.

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