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Cannabis moratorium sees enforcement process

People in violation of the county’s commercial cannabis moratorium will start seeing consequences after the Board of Supervisors waived the first reading of the cannabis enforcement ordinance at its regular board meeting May 15.

Despite opposition from many public commenters, the board approved a new streamlined enforcement and abatement process for illegal commercial cannabis. The current moratorium prohibits cannabis growth except the six-plant individual allotment permitted by the state.

The ordinance states that cannabis cultivation is a violation of a county ordinance and requires a time sensitive abatement process.

“A more streamlined appeal schedule and enforcement process is necessary and proper for cases involving unlawful cannabis cultivation because such activity poses a unique threat to public health and safety,” the ordinance reads. “Illegal cannabis cultivation is also potentially lucrative enough to incentivize unlawful activity at cultivation sites for as long as possible pending harvest.”

Ordinary abatement processes in the county can take months to even a year to complete, in this new process, specifically for cannabis, abatement can take approximately two weeks.

The new process includes notices issued by the sheriff’s office, acting as the enforcement officers for the county. The notice alerts the resident of the unlawful cannabis grow and requests an abatement of the growth. The owner or occupant has 10 days to abate the cannabis or file an appeal detailing why the grow is not a violation.

If the owner or occupant does not abate the cannabis or file for an appeal within 10 days, the enforcement officer can abate the cannabis at the owners cost, including administrative fees of up to $1,000 each day the property goes unabated. The accrued costs can be placed as a lien against the property.

At the meeting, County Counsel Craig Settlemire said the county’s enforcement ordinance was based off of a similar ordinance passed in Tehama County. Settlemire said the ordinance has never been successfully challenged in court, despite the numerous lawsuits citizens of Tehama County have filed against the regulation.

One member of the public, Harry Rogers, expressed his confusion as to the change in the relationship between the Sheriff’s Office and cannabis growers. He said cannabis growers used to invite officers to come out and inspect their property in a gesture of good faith.

“We would have numerous officers come out to our properties and tell us that what we were doing is not an imminent threat,” Rogers said. “What changed? What happened?”

After the board meeting, Feather Publishing reached out to Sheriff’s Deputy and Policy Advisor Ed Obayashi for a response to Rogers’ question.

“Nothing has changed, we have always had a moratorium on cannabis in the zoning codes, now we just have the enforcement,” Obayshi said.

He continued to say the new development is that the sheriff is now the code enforcer of the cannabis moratorium, where the county did not have a code enforcer before. The issue is not a criminal code, but a civil code violation.

“Now we have an ordinance that makes it illegal from a civil standpoint,” he said.

The board is slated to vote on the ordinance at its next meeting Thursday, May 31.

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