Mendocino County, a national epicenter of all things marijuana, crumpled under pressure from Uncle Sam last week and stripped itself of more than a half-million dollars in annual pot income.
The Board of Supervisors voted to cancel its novel medical marijuana permit program on Tuesday, saying federal prosecutors had threatened to sue the county if the program stayed on the books.
Under the 2-year-old program, the most comprehensive in the state, Mendocino County issued permits to cannabis collectives, allowing them to grow as many as 99 plants at a time, and the sheriff performed monthly inspections on their zip-tied bundles of pot.
Sheriff Tom Allman's office collected $663,230 last year in fees for the inspections, which certified that the marijuana was grown for medicinal purposes only.
County law now reverts to a limit of 12 cannabis plants per individual.
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag in San Francisco, whose office's jurisdiction includes the North Coast, declined to comment. She and other federal prosecutors in California have been cracking down on medical marijuana operators and overseers since October, threatening scores with lawsuits or jail if they don't shut down.
Prosecutors say the goal of their crackdown is to eliminate cannabis operations that have no connection to medical uses, or are too close to schools or parks. The cultivation and sale of marijuana for medical use is legal under a 1996 California law, but it remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government.
Allman said that despite the loss of revenue, he has no plans to lay off deputies. The revenue loss is not expected to affect other county departments, officials said.
"They didn't take away all of the tools in my toolbox," the sheriff said. "We'll still offer voluntary zip-tie permits for about $25 apiece," down from $50 under the canceled program. "Last year alone we raised $60,000 with that.
"There is still time for more to happen between now and April, around the growing season, when we usually collect our fees," Allman said. "But I certainly see this as a step backward."
Kevin Fagan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, January 29, 2012
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