It’s begun. Hearings for those violating Plumas County’s moratorium on growing more than six marijuana plants per household have started.
Three people in three separate locations — in Crescent Mills, near Twain and up Rush Creek Road — all responded to the first round of public hearings Wednesday, July 25, in the Board of Supervisors’ chambers.
Lynn M. Strom, an attorney from Tehama County, served as the hearing officer.
Those provided with posted and mailed notices to abate their crops included Donovan Watt of Rush Creek, Shane Ratilaineno of the Twain area and Cheryl Stockton of Crescent Mills. As a note, Ratilaineno wasn’t at the hearing. A man who said he was Ratilaineno’s son and also the grower represented him.
It was July 12 when Plumas County Sheriff’s officers saw marijuana plants in a partially covered hoop house on privately owned property on Rush Creek Road, according to Detective Chris Hendrickson. Rush Creek is in the Feather River Canyon.
Strom asked Hendrickson to present the departments finding in this and two other cases.
Other plants were located in an uncovered area, he explained.
Officers then went to a recreational vehicle parked on the property in an effort to contact someone involved with the grow. When no one was home he said they posted the property with two abatement notices. One was placed on the RV and a second at the address sign off the main road.
Hendrickson said, “We noted two to 600 plants.”
Hendrickson explained to Strom his experience with the force and with marijuana detection and eradication.
He said he has 21 years with the department and 12 years in marijuana enforcement. He is trained to spot it from the air or on the ground.
Officers returned to the Rush Creek property July 19 and all but six marijuana plants had been cut down. The plants that were either dead or dying had been dumped in a gully or ditch on the property.
Detective Sgt. Steve Peay was also asked to address the hearing official concerning their findings. Peay basically went over the same details.
Peay said he’s been with the department 27 years and has worked marijuana enforcement for 20 of those years.
Watt said he purchased the property about a year ago. He wanted to raise a particular strain of purple marijuana and thought the local growing conditions would be favorable.
Watt said he was a marijuana grower in Sonoma County for 12 years before purchasing the Plumas County property.
One of the issues Watt aired was how officers saw his plants from Rush Creek Road. He said that he’s looked at the area from the street and the plants weren’t visible.
No one from the sheriff’s office provided information on how they determined the plants were on Watt’s property.
Because Watt had complied with the abatement order and had proof of it, he was not fined. Strom did find him guilty of creating a public nuisance as defined during the county’s ordinance.
Hendrickson once again took the lead on describing the actions taken by officers regarding plants discovered on the Stockton property in Crescent Mills.
Hendrickson said that Stockton’s plants were seen during an unrelated call to her property.
When they contacted her July 12 Hendrickson said that she invited them to look at her plants. At that time she had 57 plants primarily in planter boxes.
Stockton interjected that she ordered the seeds from Canada from stock that is known for its CBDs (cannabinoids) for medicinal purposes. She explained that she uses the plants to eventually make a cream for medical reasons.
Hendrickson said that when officers returned to Stockton’s property a week later 53 of the plants remained. Stockton had not complied with the abatement notice she was given.
Peay told Strom that it was his understanding that Stockton was not willing to abate the marijuana and would wait for the hearing.
Stockton said she was a registered nurse for 40 years. She was injured on the job and eventually found that the cream made with CBDs helped the pain. She also said she had a medical prescription. It was important to grow her own marijuana and make her own creams because she wanted to make sure it was done properly.
“I’m very sympathetic, but the county has an ordinance” for excessive number of plants — anything over the state’s legal number of six plants per household, Strom said.
Plumas County Counsel Craig Settlemire said the prescription for marijuana use is only a shield from criminal prosecution.
Under the ordinance, Plumas County does have the right to restrict land use. Strom said she agreed with Settlemire, but Stockton said, “I don’t agree.”
Stockton said she had a man with her who could explain more about the medicinal part of growing medical marijuana. That unidentified man tried several times to talk, but was eventually told to leave the hearing.
Under the county ordinance, Stockton could have eradicated all but six of her marijuana plants by July 17. Because she chose to wait for the hearing she incurs a fine of $1,000 per day until they are eliminated.
Deputy Ed Obayashi, who has been assigned to lead investigations into the moratorium compliance, said that officers revisited Stockton’s property July 26 and some of the plants had been cut down.
Obayashi said, however, that fines began July 19 and by July 26, she had racked up $7,000 in fines.
Although the property is owned by Shane Ratilaineno of Richmond, it was his son, Alberto, who was present for the administrative hearing. Obayashi said, following the hearing, that the son was the one growing the marijuana, but it is the property owner’s responsibility.
Hendrickson said that it was June 27 when marijuana plants on the Ratilaineno property were spotted from the air. Hendrickson said that officers were flying the area in an unrelated case when they happened to spot the distinctive green of the plants.
It was July 12 when they revisited the area, Hendrickson said. What they encountered was a locked gate so they posted it with the ordinance abatement posters on either side of the gate. It was the son who responded to notices and said he would abate the plants. Approximately 150 plants were found at the site.
When officers returned to the property July 19, they determined that the plants had been cut down. Evidence was seen in plastic bags. The grower admitted that he had relocated a few of the plants.
Under the county ordinance, it is legal to relocate plants as long as it’s outside of Plumas County. But officers had no confirmation where the plants actually went.
Alberto was reluctant to say specifically where the plants went. He would only say Berry Creek and didn’t provide an address.
Settlemire was asked to address the subject of relocation. He said that as long as the plants weren’t in Plumas County the property owner was in compliance with the ordinance.
The Board of Supervisors passed the moratorium banning grows of more than six marijuana plants per household in November 2017.
By July 3, supervisors approved a new cannabis code compliance position. It was Settlemire who recommended to supervisors that they should hire a hearing officer to handle code compliance hearings.
Strom, a former deputy district attorney in Tehama County, is known to be tough on marijuana regulations.