OFF THE WIRE
BY: TIFFANY REVELLE
An efficiency audit of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office revealed discord among department employees about the county's medical marijuana cultivation ordinance, and urged county leaders to rethink the way it's enforced.
Codified as County Code Chapter 9.31, the ordinance allows up to 25 medical marijuana plants per parcel, and up to 99 plants per parcel with a permit from the Sheriff's Office, as long as the gardens meet state and local requirements, including documentation that the plants are grown under a doctor's recommendation.
"The 9.31 program is by far the program that causes the greatest chasm of disagreement within the department," states the audit report, which was written by Harris & Harris Enterprises.
The Board of Supervisors hired the consultant earlier this year to do the audit. Part of the consultant's methodology was to survey Sheriff's Office employees and to interview management, supervisors and others in key roles.
In a section of the report that highlights recurring themes in the responses, the report details feedback about the 9.31 permit program.
"Some feel strongly it is a program that is based in the reality of the situation related to marijuana in California and is a realistic and worthwhile program whose time is now," the report says. "Others believe the program is illegal, runs counter to overall crime prevention in Mendocino County, is potentially criminal-friendly, reduces morale and is poised to bring more crime to the county and potential corruption to the department."
The report goes on to list the 9.31 program as one of the reasons staff gave for declining morale in the department, saying the program is "viewed by many staff as acquiescing to the drug culture and potentially could attract gangs and more criminality."
The 9.31 program is currently overseen by a sergeant. The audit report says some in the department think the program should be run by non-sworn staff or by retirees.
Sheriff Tom Allman said he's looking into the idea of having his non-sworn staff run the program.
Disagreement over the politically-charged marijuana issue is to be expected, he said.
"It's fair to say 9.31 is not embraced by law enforcement, but it was adopted by the Board of Supervisors, and we are merely carrying it out," Allman said.
He stopped going to the meetings where the details of the county ordinance were hammered out in 2009, he said, "because it was hard to tell the direction of the meeting."
Second District Supervisor John McCowen, one of the two county supervisors appointed to write the regulations and conduct the meetings to gather public input, said the process was slowed by voluminous public speakers opposed to county regulation.
Since the law was revised and approved in 2010, it's also been the subject of a lawsuit that's not yet resolved, and of scrutiny by 5th District Supervisor Dan Hamburg, who said during his campaign that he questioned whether the ordinance is legal.
Mendocino County Counsel Jeanine Nadel has contended that the county is within its constitutional rights to enforce the ordinance and to treat violations as nuisances.
"I didn't ask for 9.31, but I'm carrying it out as directed," Allman said.
The report notes "a significant concern" among Sheriff's Office staff that the ordinance creates "a public perception that Mendocino County is significantly less likely to take a strong stance against drug production and sales, and that this could attract more criminal activity, more gang activity (often associated with illegal drug production), violent drug robberies, and other activities endemic to drug production."
The fact that the federal government still lists marijuana as an illegal drug is also a cause of concern, the report says.
An excerpt quoted in the audit report from the Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force's 2010 annual report says the Task Force was "inundated with complaints from citizens about marijuana gardens in their neighborhoods. Indoor grows are becoming the norm and many citizens are tired of the effect on their life. The smells, the noise and the high-volume, short-term traffic are causing home values to go down."
The excerpt goes on to say the occurrences of locally-grown marijuana being traded for methamphetamine from the Central Valley and Southern California have also increased, with marijuana's trade value fluctuating "as the value of marijuana decreases due to an over-saturation of the market.
"Traditional outlaw motorcycle gangs are becoming involved in the lucrative marijuana market in this county. Under their protection/extortion, growers are moving their product."
And, the excerpt says, the gangs are trying to recruit members to expand further into the local market.
Also interesting, according to the Task Force, is "how many dealers of methamphetamine have switched to the marijuana trade because the penalties are less harsh."
Additional follow-up reports on the sheriff's audit are planned for upcoming editions of the Daily Journal.
Tiffany Revelle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 468-3523.