Letters + Opinion » The Week in Weed

DEU Do's and Don'ts

The sheriff's office releases enforcement guidelines on cannabis

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The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office wants you to know the circumstances under which it will rip up your weed. On July 11, the agency eradicated 5,491 plants near Hyampom at an unpermitted grow. On June 28, it served three search warrants on a McKinleyville resident, Brent Visser, and reported finding 367 pounds of processed and packaged marijuana in his private home (along with six firearms, 255 Xanax pills and $80,000 in cash). A separate grow site allegedly operated by Visser near Willow Creek was also raided, resulting in 21,389 marijuana plants being eradicated. Visser had filed a Commercial Cannabis Permit Application but, according to the HCSO press release, the application was suspended because some required information was overdue. There were also environmental issues.

"After the Commercial Cannabis Application and surveillance information was reviewed, HCSO [Drug Enforcement Unit] had reason to believe that Brett Visser was using the Humboldt County Commercial Cannabis Permit process as a cover for trafficking marijuana and that several felony environmental violations were being committed," stated the press release.

Perhaps in an attempt to quell the fears of folks who have registered with the county that the HCSO DEU is going to use their information against them (right, good luck), the agency released a memo on July 20 breaking down its policies and priorities on addressing illegal marijuana cultivation.

First, some numbers. The sheriff's office estimates that only about 19 percent (2,300) of the roughly 12,000 documented grow sites in Humboldt actually have permit applications on file. Of those 2,300 applicants, only about 2 percent (43) have actually received permits and roughly a third of the total permits filed (800) are actually complete. While a great deal of people filed applications to get in under the deadline, a relatively small chunk of those had all of the information necessary. Those that haven't seen any progress in the last six months are considered "withdrawn" and open to enforcement.

If your scene is permitted, you're expected to be able to produce the paperwork. That means an approved conditional use permit/special permit or zoning clearance certificate and your county business license. If you don't have a permit but you've turned in your application, you're going to need a whole binder full of other information ready to show the cops. That includes (but is not limited to) an affidavit stamped by the county, complete site plan, processing plan, distribution plan, documentation from the State Water Resources Control Board, your seller's permit from the Board of Equalization, an Employers Identification Number and proof that you're paying both your state and federal taxes. (See the county website for more details.)

"If a marijuana cultivation site does not have a permit application in process and the cultivator fails to have the above listed documentation, enforcement action will be taken," the press release states. "Per the policy of the Sheriff's office all the marijuana will be removed onsite and the suspects will be arrested."

If you have a permit but you're growing more than you said you would, you're also vulnerable to being fined, arrested and having your crop destroyed.

But with so many grows – legal, semi-legal and illegal – in Humboldt County, the HCSO says enforcement will be mostly complaint-driven, focusing on the "most egregious violators of the law." Issues besides missing/inadequate permitting that will put a scene at the top of the list include the sale and distribution of marijuana to minors, trespass grows, human trafficking, violation of state firearms laws, revenue being directed to gangs and/or cartels, distribution outside the state and trafficking of other illegal drugs.

So, in essence, follow the letter of the law, or the law is going to come looking for you.

Linda Stansberry is a staff writer at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 317, or linda@northcoastjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @LCStansberry.

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