Tempers flare over cannabis contract
Tempers flared over a controversial cannabis-related item at the Nevada County board of supervisors’ regular meeting Tuesday.
While Martin Webb, a medical marijuana proponent, was delivering public comment regarding a contract between the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, Sheriff Keith Royal loudly interrupted him.
“I wish for once and for all you, Mr. Webb, you would get your facts straight,” Royal shouted before apologizing moments later.
“Mr. Webb is not factually correct regarding the activities of this office. A good example is the issue of how I was going to use this funding to deal with the issue of the ordinance enforcement,” Royal said.
“I’ve laid out what we’ve done historically and it’s just my frustration in having to deal with those type of inaccuracies.”
Webb had said in his public comment that Royal intended to use all or a portion of the $45,000 provided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency for “domestic cannabis eradication and suppression” to enforce Nevada County’s controversial medical marijuana cultivation ordinance.
Royal repeatedly asserted that the contract stipulates the money cannot be used for enforcement of the local ordinance, but must be used to fund overtime hours, equipment and investigation time related to the location and eradication of large commercial grow operations, especially those taking place on federally managed lands.
“We’ve (executed this contract) for about 20 years,” Royal said.
“We do not use it in relationship to the ordinance; this money is prohibited from being used for those purposes. This money is primarily used for the large commercial gardens we see, primarily on public lands.”
The money is used to execute fly-over operations to view federally managed lands in the county jurisdiction, Royal said. Such fly-overs can also be used to check up on private residences with a past history of commercial cultivation.
Royal cited the recent conviction of Charles Miller Hilkey, who was arrested in 2009 and found to be in possession of about 475 marijuana plants, 135 pounds of processed marijuana and about $200,000 in cash.
“He had a major operation,” Royal said. “Every garden we get involved in must violate both federal and state law. We are not looking at small gardens.”
Patricia Smith, president of the Nevada County chapter of Americans for Safe Access, and other medical marijuana advocates dominated the public comment portion of the agenda item.
Many said the portion of the contract that reads “gather and report intelligence data relating to the cultivation, possession and distribution of cannabis” could indicate the sheriff’s office would report on activities of people in compliance with the county cultivation ordinance.
“It’s unconscionable,” Smith said. “(The sheriff) has to protect patients’ rights.”
Royal said people are confusing the civil nature of the nuisance ordinance with the criminal nature of commercial grows.
“Nuisance investigations are not turned over to the federal government,” Royal said.
Stephen Munkelt, a prominent local defense attorney who represented many of the people cited during medical marijuana compliance checks last season, said the agreement between the county and the federal government represents a surrender of local control to federal authorities.
“I think you are putting federal law ahead of local control,” Munkelt said.
The board, which voted 4 to 1 (Supervisor Terry Lamphier dissented) to approve the contract, said they saw no such conflict.
“It seems pretty obvious to me that this will not be used to report information generated through ordinance enforcement to the DEA,” said Supervisor Richard Anderson.
“Frankly, I am willing to take the sheriff at his word.”
After the meeting, Webb said the board needs to hold the sheriff more accountable, asking for specific verification of his assertions.
“We have seen several instances where you don’t want to take the sheriff at his word,” he said, charging that the sheriff misrepresented the number of complaints his office received from residents about medical marijuana in 2011.
Webb said he and others filed a public records request asking for the complaints generated in 2011 but were provided with zero complaints after the office said they neglected to write the complaints down.
Webb said he supports using the money to prosecute criminals growing marijuana in the community but would like to see a specific plan to ensure the money is not being used inappropriately.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email email@example.com or 530-477-4239.
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