Mendocino Fights Feds on Medical Marijuana Subpoena

Now a battleground state
A year ago, the federal Justice Department took aim at legal medical marijuana in Mendocino County. The feds warned that the county's novel cannabis plant licensing program, which generated cash and kept sheriffs patrolling the rural area, violated federal law and needed to go; otherwise county officials would be sued. The county rolled over; to take on the federal government would be to enter into a David vs. Goliath situation, one supervisor said.

In October, U.S. Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag came knocking again. This time, she led a federal grand jury to issue a subpoena demanding the county hand over all documents relating to the licensing program, including names and addresses of any legal cannabis grower in the county.

David, meet Goliath.

The county is fighting the subpoena, according to court filings made Friday, and will argue that the Justice Department is violating "the principles of federalism which are basic to our system of government."

The October surprise from the feds demanded -- on CD-ROM, no less -- "all records" related to Mendocino County's 9.31 program. The records included emails and communications between the growers and the county, and, in many cases, include GPS coordinates of their gardens, according to one program participant speaking on condition of anonymity. 

The program went well for two years, before it was canceled abruptly about a year ago under pressure from the feds. Over 100 cannabis growers paid inspection fees to the Sheriff's Department, which then issued zip ties to mark pot plants as bona-fide legal. The program netted the county as much as $600,000, according to Board estimates.

It was rumored that the Justice Department will seek to seize the funds as well as pursue prosecutions -- against county officials as well as program participants, some of whom have been raided, but not prosecuted, by DEA agents.

The subpoena gave county officials until Jan. 8 to reply. This time, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors decided to step up and fight back. The board voted unanimously to fight the subpoena, Supervisor Dan Hamburg told SF Weekly on Wednesday.

The request is "overly broad" and "too burdensome," according to documents filed Friday by County Counsel Thomas Parker and San Francisco attorney Bill Osterhoudt, hired by the county expressly for this purpose. The attorneys went further and laid out four reasons why the subpoena should be quashed. While all are separate points, most deal with the issue of confidentiality. 

The subpoena is "unreasonable and burdensome," Parker and Osterhoudt wrote, because it requires county officials to violate their confidentiality agreements with the medical patients who applied for the 9.31 permits; it would open those same medical patients to federal prosecution; it would open county officials to prosecution from the same medical patients for violating a confidentiality agreement; and violates county officials' ability to "conduct the County's governmental affairs without unwarranted and unreasonable scrutiny."

What's more, Mendocino will argue, the request seeks "production of material which is not relevant to any legitimate grand jury investigation," it "chills First Amendment rights of physicians and patients," and is an "unwarranted" intrusion into a situation legal under California state law, "basic to our system of government."

In other words, the unscheduled upcoming hearing will be of interest to Constitutional scholars and drug war advocates alike. 

Far from spooking county officials, the subpoena appears to have galvanized them against federal intrusion, Hamburg says.

"Even supervisors who opposed 9.31 initially -- and the 99 plant program in particular -- believed the subpoena to be overly broad and unclear as to its intent," Hamburg writes in an e-mail Wednesday.

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malcolmkyle16 topcommenter

Legally regulated (manufacture, distribution and consumption) of marijuana is coming to a state near you in 2013:


“These laws just don't make sense anymore. It’s shocking, from my perspective, the number of people that we all know who are recreational marijuana users… these are incredibly upstanding citizens: Leaders in our community, and exceptional people.”
—Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom (preparing the way for Governor Jerry Brown to initiate proceedings to legalize and regulate marijuana through the state legislature)


Maine's legislature is moving on a legalization-and-regulation bill that could bring the state $8 million a year in new revenue.

''The people are far ahead of the politicians on this. Just in the past few weeks we've seen the culture shift dramatically.''
—Rep. Diane Russell of Portland, District 120 (Occupation: Public Relations Consultant)


"Thinking we're not going to have it is unrealistic. It's just a question of how and when"
—Assemblyman Richard (Tick) Segerblom of Las Vegas, elected to the Nevada State Senate in 2012


"We have decades of evidence that says prohibition does not work and it's counterproductive. it's a matter of dollars and common sense. There's a source of revenue that's reasonable that is rational that is the right policy choice for our state. We are going to get there on legalization."
—Peter Buckley, co-chair of the Oregon state legislature's budget committee.


Rhode Island is also expected to legally regulate marijuana through the state legislature instead of a popular referendum.

''Our prohibition has failed, Legalizing and taxing it, just as we did to alcohol, is the way to do it.''
—Rep. Edith Ajello, chairs the House Committee on Judiciary and is a member of the House Oversight Committee.


In November 2012, the state's Democratic governor, Peter Shumlin, cruised to re-election while strongly backing marijuana decriminalization. And the city of Burlington passed a resolution in November 2012 calling for an end to prohibition – with 70 percent support.


Most Alaskans already have a clear view of things from their own back garden. Personal use and possession of Marijuana in Alaskan homes has been effectively legal since 1975.


@malcolmkyle16 pot's been around for 1000s of years  but persecuted for 70 years or so. melinda hag and company look stupid makin a career chasin a plant we know is safe and a medicine. soon we'll all be stoners. these people need to ride the wave

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