300 marijuana complaints to Nevada County Sheriff’s Office  | TheUnion.com

300 marijuana complaints to Nevada County Sheriff’s Office 

Photo for The Union by Liz Kellar

Ordinance enforcement by the numbers

294 complaints by citizens concerning nuisance gardens

85 notices to abate

16 arrests

11 countries of origin for foreign nationals detained while processing marijuana (Canada, Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Germany, Sweden, France, Spain, Israel, England, Italy)

8 referrals to code compliance for code violations

4 civil abatement warrants served (seizing 214 plants)

2 criminal search warrants (seizing 158 plants, numerous pounds of processed marijuana and around $30,000)

2 drug-endangered child cases

2 persons with verifiable employment

0 gardens found in compliance

0 uses of force

Despite the recent spate of rainy weather, the marijuana season is far from wrapping up — and that means the Nevada County Sheriff’s marijuana ordinance enforcement team is “staying busy,” said Lt. Steve Tripp.

The team still is serving abatement warrants on gardens that have been found to be out of compliance with the county’s new cultivation ordinance,

“In fact, they served one or two this afternoon,” Tripp said Friday. “People aren’t even harvesting yet. They’re still growing. They will get as close to the end of November as they possibly can. They’re just covering the plants. They’re pushing their luck; they want to have as much yield as possible.”

Tripp noted that it’s not
uncommon for growers in Nevada County to harvest at the end of November if the weather holds up.

“With the weather being bad on and off, with that big cold rain, I thought they would be harvesting,” he said. “But the guys are still working (on abatements).”

The team, which consists of members of the narcotics task force as well as Sgt. Ray Kress and Deputy Mark Hollitz, has been responding to marijuana cultivation nuisance complaints since the controversial ordinance was passed by the county Board of Supervisors May 8.

The ordinance is intended to regulate legal grows from a nuisance standpoint; it limits the size of grows depending on zoning, setbacks and plot size and imposes other restrictions, such as security fencing.

After a Nevada County Superior Court judge refused to block the ordinance in late July, the Narcotics Task Force ramped up the number of compliance checks and the department added two full-time deputies to the ordinance detail.

On Friday, Sheriff Keith Royal released the statistics on the enforcement actions taken by his team in the nearly six months since the passage of the ordinance.

His office has received 294 citizen complaints concerning marijuana nuisance to date, he said.

The team has issued 85 notices to abate, according to statistics provided by Kress. As a result of the compliance checks, the marijuana enforcement team has made 16 arrests, served four civil abatement warrants and served two criminal search warrants.

The team seized 214 plants in the four civil abatements; 158 plants, numerous pounds of processed marijuana and $30,000 in cash were seized in the two criminal warrant searches.

The team has investigated two marijuana drug-endangered child cases and referred eight cases to Nevada County Code Compliance for follow-up investigations.

In a sign that Nevada County has become known worldwide for its marijuana, the Sheriff’s Office noted that foreign nationals from 11 different countries had been detained during the investigations.

Prior to this year, the Sheriff’s Office did not keep track of how many complaints it received. But Tripp said there did seem to be a jump this year.

“I think we received a lot more because people are aware of the ordinance,” he said.”Now people know they can do something about the nuisance.”

Tripp said that despite the lengthy discussions about the ordinance in the months leading up to its passage, the team did not find a single grower who had made efforts to bring their gardens into compliance.

“I don’t think the majority of people took it seriously that we weren’t going to be out there enforcing it,” he said. “Even after they were served with an abatement notice. We gave people the opportunity to come into compliance and they weren’t doing it.”

Tripp emphasized that the enforcement team was not trying to stop people from growing marijuana legally.

“We’re trying to find the fine line between the legal right to grow and your neighbor’s right to quality of life,” he said. “We’re just trying to have everybody co-exist … Stay within the guidelines and you won’t be impacted.”

Tripp expressed frustration with those who “take advantage” of the legal right to grow marijuana in order to turn a profit.

“The public might be surprised at the fact that we came across just two people with verifiable employment,” he said.

“How are they making a living if they’re not selling their marijuana?”

As of Nov. 1, 29 growers who had been served with abatement notices had filed appeals with the county. One was closed by the Sheriff’s Office because it had been filed incorrectly, and one appeal request was denied because it was filed late.

So far, 13 decisions have been issued — six abatement notices were upheld and six appeals received mixed rulings. Only one appeal has been granted so far. Five decisions remain pending, and nine hearings have been scheduled for Nov. 14 and Nov. 16.

Nevada City attorney Stephen Munkelt, who has been handling many of the appeals, earlier this week filed a motion to halt the abatement process, but that was denied in Nevada County Superior Court Friday morning.

Munkelt said he had filed a writ that asked the court to review whether there was an abuse of discretion or a violation of the law by the county in enforcing the ordinance.

He also had filed the motion for the court to grant a stay of the abatement process, until a ruling was made.

Nevada County’s counsel, however, has requested that the matter be transferred to federal court, he said.

Visiting Judge Ersel Edwards agreed to not take action at this time but did not exclude other remedies, Munkelt said.

Nevada County’s request is predicated on the fact that this is a constitutional issue and, thus, should be heard in federal court, he explained, adding that he is unsure if we will file a challenge.

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email lkellar@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4229.

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