Penalties for violating Nevada County marijuana ordinance remain unchanged after outdoor ban implemented | TheUnion.com

Penalties for violating Nevada County marijuana ordinance remain unchanged after outdoor ban implemented

A Nevada County Sheriff's deputy conducts a compliance check for the cultivation ordinance in this September 2012 archive photo.

Outdoor marijuana grows are prohibited in Nevada County, a change that came this month after the sheriff recommended the ban to the Board of Supervisors.

Authorities now can begin the abatement process by spotting an outdoor grow or finding more than 12 plants indoors, an easier method of discovering violations. Before the change, they had to examine the square footage of a grow to determine if a violation occurred.

Local law has changed, but the legal procedure of removing, or abating, a grow remains the same, Nevada City attorney Heather Burke said.

According to Burke, authorities can remove plants immediately under two circumstances: The grow is an immediate threat to the public health or safety of the community, or there's a clear violation of state law.

“If you don’t file an appeal, you don’t get a hearing. Most people who come in (to my office) when they’re cited don’t file an appeal.”Heather BurkeNevada City attorney

Officers must follow a certain procedure in any other example, Burke said.

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Authorities can give the grower a citation in cases that don't warrant immediate removal. That begins a civil process that can result in the county recouping the costs of an abatement and a potential appeal hearing but never jail time.

According to county counsel Alison Barratt-Green, the county could impose monetary fines for violations under its administrative citation process. However, the sheriff hasn't applied that process to marijuana grows.

After receiving a citation, the grower can become compliant or file an appeal within five days.

"Most people self-abate," Burke said.

Someone who becomes compliant typically avoids sanctions, if they meet the precise letter of the law. Failing to become compliant, and opting against filing an appeal, can lead authorities to show up with an abatement warrant six days after issuing a citation, Burke said.

Sheriff's deputies always recheck a grow to see if it's in compliance before serving an abatement warrant and removing the plants, Barratt-Green said.

If the grower chooses to appeal, a hearing must occur within 30 days of the citation being issued.

"If you don't file an appeal, you don't get a hearing," Burke said. "Most people who come in (to my office) when they're cited don't file an appeal."

A hearing officer, not a judge, presides over an appeal. That person is advised by the sheriff and county attorney, Burke said.

The hearing officer can issue an abatement order, which in turn allows deputies to get an abatement warrant. It's that warrant that empowers them to remove marijuana plants, Burke added.

A grower can appeal to Superior Court if he or she loses at the hearing. However, Burke said the grower's legal burden is very high once the appeal reaches that level. Additionally, authorities in the meantime can execute an abatement warrant.

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.