Author: hburkelegalgmail-com

From Zero to Sixty: Cannabis Corporations in the Last Days of the Collective/Cooperative

As most farmers are aware, the shift out of SB 420 (i.e. the collective/cooperative model) into MCRSA (i.e. the local permit/state license model) is in part intended to bring cannabis cultivation into the light, primarily the taxable light. In light of these changes, my farmer clients commonly ask if they should start a corporation in preparation for the future, or if they should continue on as they have in the past.

This article is intended to flesh some of the issues out regarding starting a lawful California cannabis corporation now.

I.  Who Should Not Start a California Cannabis Corporation

1.  Do not start a shell corporation to establish priority.

A shell corporation is a business that is formed, but ignored in any meaningful manner. It is generally unwise to form a “shell” corporation to gain “priority” status under MCRSA or Prop 64, a tactic some attorneys and even our local policy organization advised in the past.

The statutes do not mandate local Cities or Counties give “priority” to prior-existing corporations, but instead order the State agencies issuing the state licenses. (Cal. B.P. Section 19321, 260554.2.)  While the issues are related, the buying and selling of pre-existing corporations may prove to be a fruitless exercise that serves only to generate more money for the attorney who set the shell corporation up in the first place.

Local jurisdictions (Calaveras/Mendo/Humboldt) have thus far cared more about the pre-existence of the farm in light of CEQA than any “priority” offered by a shell corporation, so don’t get played.

2.  If you aren’t ready to learn how to run a legitimate corporation, don’t start one. 

Those who are not ready to operate in strict compliance with the collective/cooperative rules should refrain from starting a corporation now, as they could expose themselves to criminal liability for financial and tax crimes instead of the simple cannabis crimes. Financial crimes are far worse, as they are often felonies and may be considered “moral turpitude,” forever precluding any type of licensing.

If you ain’t ready, you ain’t ready.

II. Why Does Corporate Status Matter?

For those who are ready to move into the next phase of California’s lawful system of cannabis production, the remainder of this article is for you. The first thing to know is MCRSA and Prop 64 authorize commercial activity, which will operate within the U.S.’s hyper-capitalistic economy. Thus, in order to best protect yourself and your assets, a smart farmer should have a working knowledge of basic business, and of those corporate rules that come along with it. Here’s a few issues to be aware of:

1.  Taxes

Taxes on California cannabis are wild, and they appear to have no end in sight with the allowance given to locals to tax even further. This massive taxation will likely put some mom-and-pops out of business, but by thinking strategically about taxing now, you can take the right steps to avoid unnecessary taxes.

By my account, cannabis taxes thus far are:

  • $148 per flower pound (due at harvest);
  • $44 per leaf pound (due at harvest);
  • 8% sales tax (which would be negated for wholesales from grower to dispensary/retailer if the growers can obtain a resale certificate, but growers who direct sale would be liable);
  • 15% excise tax (applies only to purchases of cannabis products, so this is a bigger issue for retailers);
  • Local cultivation and/or sales tax (TBD depending on your City/County);
  • Absolutely no write-offs for cannabis-only related expenses, per 26 U.S.C. § 280E.

By making sure you’re not paying extra self-employment taxes and ensuring your small business can obtain “pass-through” taxing when you move out of the collective/cooperative model, you can eliminate or greatly reduce the possibility of double taxation (i.e. where your corporation gets taxed and then your salary from the corporation gets taxed again).

2.   The Reputation and Goodwill of Your Business May Prove to Be Critical in an Industry Where Your History Matters.

I cannot understate the value of building your corporate personality and the “goodwill” of your business now, as the age of your corporation and its existing reputation matters, both for “priority” status under MCRSA and Prop. 64, and also for competitive local permits. Mostly, however, consumers care!

3.  Allows Strategic Business Decisions in Quick Turn-Around Permits.

In addition to the obvious issue of taxation, growers may not get a lot of time to ponder these issues before having to make a quick decision about permitting in light of the quick ebb and flow of the local cannabis rules in each City and County. (Hello, Mendo!)

4.  Allows Strategic Business Decisions in Non-Transferable Permits.

Many of local permits are non-transferrable, which means you may be stuck in the same corporate formation for several years if the County permits go on hold during a CEQA analysis. Taxes may prove to be unbearable if you don’t have corporate protection once taxes kick in in earnest in about 2019-2020 (once the collective/cooperative model dies).

5.  Protects You From Personal Liability if Your Business Gets Sued or Goes Under.

With a functioning corporation, you get the added benefit of a corporate “veil,” meaning your personal assets would likely be protected if your business got sued. Considering there will be tons of lawsuits as these issues get worked out, protect yourself by making sure you and your business are distinct entities. 

III.  Overview of California Cannabis Corporations

1. Current Law Continues to Demand Not-for-Profit Status.

Current law still requires non-profit status, but allows for profit making in the future. This odd conundrum leads to the common question: “How can we protect ourselves now but prepare for the future of California cannabis?”  

There are three primary choices: (1) do nothing, which essentially means you are a sole proprietor, (2) incorporate as a not-for-profit Mutual Benefit Corporation that can be transitioned to a for-profit company in the future, (3) organize a for-profit corporation that chooses to operate on a not-for-profit basis, or as a “management” or “holding” company for a distinct not-for-profit collective or cooperative. 

2.  Sole Proprietorships

California law continues to require a cannabis farmer be organized as (1) a collective or a cooperative, which (2) must be operated in a not-for-profit manner. Thus, operating as a sole proprietor of a commercial cannabis operation is arguably illegal at this time.  

There is the rare case where a grower provides cannabis to a dispensary of which they are a member.  If your garden is organized as a producer for a dispensary, however, your hard work is actually building someone else’s business. 

Additionally, once you begin to file taxes on your commercial cannabis business, sole proprietors will be subject to self-employment taxes, which essentially doubles your standard taxes. This self employment tax is in addition to the other taxes described in the previous section.  

3.  Cooperatives and Not-for-Profit Mutual Benefit Corporations

In 2008, Jerry Brown declared medical cannabis cooperatives must be formed as “Consumer Cooperatives” or “Agricultural Cooperatives,” which are specific types of businesses where members are united in common purpose and generally get an equal vote on the corporation’s major decisions. Cooperatives have stringent voting requirements that greatly limit their flexibility as an entity.  

At some point, dispensaries wisely began utilizing Mutual Benefit Corporations [“MBC”], another type of corporation that allows the Board and governing members greater flexibility in building the dispensary’s business.   The MBC can have members with voting rights similar to a cooperative, or members who do not get to vote, or even members who can vote on only some things, and this pliability makes it a desirable form.

The downside, however, is a MBC may not make the best business sense once the corporation gets big enough to own assets (such as real property or personal property like a greenhouse or a tractor).  An MBC cannot distribute assets or “dividends” to its members like a profit corporation can do for its shareholders, as the only time a MBC can distribute assets to members is at dissolution, unless the governing documents such as the Articles of Incorporation (AOI) or bylaws state otherwise. (Corp. Code Section 8717.)  

California law thankfully allows a MBC to merge with or transition into a for-profit company (C.C. 8010), which cannabis-related MBCs should not do until:

  • Collectives/cooperatives may legally operate on a for-profit basis (watch out for AB 64); or
  • You’re governed by the rules of MCRSA/Prop. 64, i.e. where you have a local permit and a state license.

          4.  LLCs, Partnerships, and Other Traditionally For-Profit Corporations

An LLC is a common entity type for small businesses, as LLCs offer traditional corporate protection, but don’t have the same rigmarole as traditional corporations that issue stocks to shareholders.  Most folks who have cannabis-related LLCs traditionally operate them in addition to their MBC and, in those cases, the LLC “manages” or acts as a “holding company” for the non-profit MBC’s assets or Intellectual Property, such as the company’s logo, the secret nutrient formula, or special growing techniques.  

In such cases, appropriate contracts/leases would need to be drafted setting forth how the LLC interacts with the MBC to ensure the transactions between the two corporations are sufficiently “arms-length” to be unquestionably legitimate.

Technically, you can run an LLC in a not-for-profit manner by declaring so in the Operating Agreement (CC 17701.10), which is a common structure in areas where the local jurisdiction is more friendly to creative cannabis businesses. In Nevada County and the surrounding Counties, you will likely be prosecuted if you tell an officer your cannabis business is an LLC, even if you can prove your financials are managed in a not–for-profit manner.  Thus, while a not-for-profit LLC is a legitimate possibility, its wisdom in practice largely depends on your jurisdiction.

If your cannabis business has a creative corporate structure involving an LLC or other type of for-profit, it is critical that Sierra Foothills farmers do not discuss their business model with law enforcement, and you should be wary of obtaining a permit in the name of the LLC. 

          5.  What Corporate Structure is Best for the Small Farmer?

For the aggressively professional and forward-thinking Sierra Foothill farmers, the most strategic method is to maintain (and operate) two corporations (i.e., a not-for-profit to manage the cannabis and a for-profit to manage the assets), as growers may not get lengthy notice when the Sierra Foothill Counties finally do issue cultivation licenses. Thus, having one of each type of corporation allows you to make a strategic decision about which corporation to get the permit under, if and when they are issued. For example:

  1. If not-for-profit status is still required by the State when your County issues a permit, or if the County grades applicants on the length of their previously existing corporate status, then having a longstanding not-for-profit corporation would be extremely helpful; or
  2. If the County issues licenses after for-profit becomes legal, then it would be needlessly cumbersome to get the permit as a non-profit unless you desire to remain a non-profit in the future (which a lot of folks do) or unless you don’t get time for a lengthy transition before your application is due.  If you’re in the latter category, you should ensure your governing documents allow for flexible transition now, or you could screw yourself in the future.

However, for the majority of small farmers just trying to make it through the day, a Mutual Benefit Corporation which allows easy transition to an LLC or stock corporation is perfectly workable, as it the safest option for now and can be converted to a for-profit in the future. 

If you are in a friendly jurisdiction, you could skip the MBC and go right to the LLC, but that’s dangerous ground in hostile Counties and may hurt you if your jurisdiction requires proof of not-for-profit status when permits are available.


In sum, I am aware the corporate stuff is unfamiliar and daunting. But, while the massive taxes are my least favorite part of the end of prohibition, I strongly believe wise steps to protect yourself from over-taxation and the lack of any risk of arrest will make this transition worth it someday.   

For now, just continue to hold on tight, start to ponder these concepts, and then take initial steps if and when you’re ready. Above all, please stay safe this coming season.

<3, hb

Written by Heather L. Burke, Criminal/Administrative/Corporate/Litigation

In consultation with attorney Fran Cole, Diamond Baker Mitchell, L.L.P, Corporate/Civil Litigation

***This blog is excerpted from a larger chapter in the The Farmer’s Corporate Handbook, due in May, 2017.  Additional chapters include (2) How to Run a Legal Cannabis Corporation, and (3) What Legal Cannabis Producers, Manufacturers and Distributors Need to Know About Contracts, and more!  Stay tuned!  

#protectourfarmers #cali4life

The Tortoise, the Hare, and the Ostrich: Legal Compliance in the 2017 Growing Season

I used to joke that many farmers act like ostriches by burying their heads in the sand when it comes to staying on top of the sweeping new laws relating to cannabis cultivation.  That approach is understandable in light of the volume and complexity of the new laws, but I recently realized the age-old story of “the tortoise and the hare” may provide significant insight for those trying to find a path forward, particularly here in Nevada County. That story taught us—as we all remember— that slow and steady wins the race.   This principle is applicable to growers in Nevada County’s current cannabis realm for three primary reasons:

1. Protect What You’ve Built in the Industry Thus Far.

Before thinking about the future, farmers should start by protecting what they’ve built so far.  For most, this means perfecting their legal compliance now, as one’s compliance with state law matters this season more than ever, especially in the ban counties such as Nevada County (yes, we are still under a ban).  It is critical to protect yourself from arrest this season, and from felony arrest in particular, as we are expecting the Sheriff’s Office to mount an aggressive anti-cultivation campaign. The County will get $100 per plant out of compliance, per day, which adds a unique financial incentive not previously in play.  Moreover, thanks to our “interim” ordinance, law enforcement can “summarily abate” (i.e. slash-and-burn) without a hearing wherever there is any violation of state law! Thus, even a misdemeanor violation of Prop 215 and/or the Collective/Cooperative rules could possibly get you immediately chopped, fined $100 per plant, perhaps arrested, and having to “lawyer up” for a criminal case.  Talk about insult to injury!

Additionally, although Prop. 64 (aka “AUMA”) downgraded illegal cultivation to a misdemeanor in most situations, it is still a felony where the plants are grown in a way that harms the environment.  Law enforcement will likely interpret the environmental crimes broadly, so unpermitted clear-cutting in an area close to the watersheds or irresponsible use of pesticides might get you arrested for harming the environment. Since you can be denied a state license under MCRSA for a felony conviction based on purposeful injury to our Mother Earth, you should not half-ass your legal or environmental compliance this year.

Finally, as Congress defunded the DEA and fed DOJ from investigating and prosecuting conduct that is in “strict compliance” with California’s medical cannabis laws, a half-assed informal Collective or a defunct Not-for-Profit Mutual Benefit Corporation [“MBC”] is probably not enough to protect you from the Feds if they come in. (P.S., #fdt.)

While our County’s ordinance status is imperfect, I am choosing to be grateful for this momentarily lull after a barrage of sweeping changes over the past 2 years, both locally and state-wide. Instead of acting like the braggadocios hare (who has a popular Instagram page, so he must be legal, right?) or the purposely ignorant ostrich, I am encouraging my clients to follow the wise tortoise’s lead and take this precious time to perfect their legal compliance, particularly as we are only beginning to methodically digest the deluge of new laws.  I strongly advocate a “safety first” approach, focusing on protecting what you built in this industry thus far as we inch towards the future with wisdom.

This simply is not the year to risk everything because we’re ticked off the County did not give us grow permits after Measure W. Complaining is self-defeating. Get over it, and bring your legal status into line while there is time to do so thoughtfully.

2. Prepare for the Future, But Do So Wisely.

You can be proactive during this short respite by taking small but significant steps to prepare for permitting, if and when it is available.  Should Nevada County allow you a mere few days to turn in your permit (recall what happened in Mendocino County), you may regret burying your head in your expensive pile of fancy dirt. There is much to do, now.

Firstly, we can look to the cultivation ordinances in Calaveras, Mendocino, and Humboldt, make educated guesses about the requirements of a future permitting ordinance here, and get working on it.

Secondly, as we move from collectives/cooperatives to small businesses, there are a LOT of corporate and tax rules that now may apply.  You could, for instance, get answers to the following questions now, instead of making critical decisions under a stressful timeframe:

  • Should you start a MBC? (Hint: beware of anyone selling you a MBC without assessing the cons as well as the pros.)
  • Was your MBC created in haste to get you “priority,” but you don’t really use it or have any idea what to do with it? How do you breathe life into an existing non-profit corporation?
  • Does your defunct MBC get you “priority” under MCRSA? (Hint: no.) If not, what does?
  • Does an MBC and a popular Instagram page equate to legal compliance?  (Hint: yikes!)
  • If you have a MBC, do you know if you will need to dissolve it or whether it can be morphed into a for-profit entity in the near future (should AB 64 pass or you get state licensing)? Should your bylaws be updated now, before you bind yourself to a non-transferable permit?
  • What Water Board tier are you? What can be done today to prepare if you may a higher tier? Does compliance with the Water Board BMPs even matter now, before you can submit a Notice of Intent?
  • Have you met with a CPA and started thinking about the process of tax compliance, even if you’re not ready to commit to paying taxes just yet? Is your CPA subject to the attorney-client privilege, or are you telling your most critical secrets to someone who is not bound by statutory confidentiality?

While the questions can go on ad infinitum, a knowledgeable lawyer can give you a fairly good overview of these issues so you that can take your first step at developing an Action Plan.  Don’t wait to make a game plan until the game is on.  While we have precious time to prepare and plan, prepare and plan for Goddess sake!

3. Intent Matters. A Lot.

An intention to operate lawfully actually has cognizable significance in the legal realm. I find that developing an intent to be lawful is often matter of self-perception, as cops and prosecutors told growers they were illegal for decades, even when the growers were trying to do it right. This unfortunate self-perception of illegitimacy is a result of that conditioning, and the time has come to stop playing into their narrative and to create your own story about your intention and understanding of your own legitimacy.

No, you still cannot talk to law enforcement about your new self-realization, but it is a hugely significant step forward if the only change you make this season is to alter your intention surrounding the lawfulness of your canna-business.  Like everything else in life, intent matters.


In closing, I note that the work of the tortoise is undoubtedly tedious and perhaps lacking in glamour, but it is methodical and wise. You will be better prepared than the ostrich who refuses to look up from his pile of dirt, and you will likely outlast the rabbit, who gained a reputation for folly.  As we alter our perception of our County’s currently undesirable status from an affront to a respite, we can change our perception of ourselves along the way, and create our own story.  Then we trod on slowly, but wisely, to the finish line.

#strongertogether #protectourfarmers #cali4life #setmypeoplefree ~hb

My musical meditation for this post is a live version of Bad Brains, The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth. You’re welcome.


Discussing Federal Cannabis Issues with Attorney Omar Figueroa

I got a chance to sit down with one of my colleagues and friend, the brilliant attorney Omar Figueroa, this morning to chat about what’s up with the feds. Know this! ~hb

Probable Cause in Planning and Planting Your Legal Cannabis Garden.

This is the first in a four-part video series entitled “California Cannabis Law,” and this Part I focuses on Probable Cause in Planning and Planting Your Legal Cannabis Garden.

Part II will focus on State Law Compliance, Local Ordinance Issues, and Federal Law Update, and will include an overview of all three areas of law which may apply to the lawful cultivation of cannabis.

Part III will address the Future of Cannabis Cultivation in California, including priority issues and how to move forward in California’s new legal era.

Finally, Part IV will discuss Resentencing and Expungement, including Proposition 64’s allowance for redesignation, legal invalidity, and expungement.

Happy 2017 from The Law Offices of Heather L. Burke!!


Prop 64’s Effect on Criminal Records: Legal Invalidity vs. Redesignating Prior Felonies

**This is a technical analysis that is not necessarily fun reading, but may be helpful for attorneys or people who want to clean up their prior cannabis felonies .

Prop 64 fundamentally redefines California’s criminal cannabis laws, in particular Health & Safety Code [“H.S.”] §§ 11358 (cultivation), 11359 (possession for sale), and 11360 (transportation/sales).  Each of those crimes are now misdemeanors, unless its someone’s third offense for that particular crime.[1]  AUMA also allows people to redefine their criminal histories to reflect Prop 64’s changes to the standard marijuana felonies.  There are two avenues for updating one’s criminal record, one of which applies to people who are still serving their sentences (H.S. § 11361.8(a)-(d).)  The other avenue, for folks who have served their time and are off probation or parole, is the focus of this article.

Legal Invalidity vs. Redesignation (H.S. Section 11361.8(e)-(h).)

Under Prop 64, people with cannabis felonies on their record can now “apply” either (1) to have their prior conviction dismissed and sealed because the prior conviction is now “legally invalid,” or (2) to have their prior convictions reduced to misdemeanors.  Judge Couzin’s bench brief on Resentencing Procedures (PDF attached below) is helpful on this procedure, but there are a few substantive notes I want to add: 

1.  ”Redesignating” The Prior As A Misdemeanor

This avenue is available to everyone with a conviction for H.S. §§ 1135811359, and 11360, as well as anyone with a prior “hash” felony, H.S. § 11357(a).  It is critical people realize Prop 64 actually “redesignates” these felonies to be misdemeanors “for all purposes.”  (H.S. § 11361.8(h))  This includes future priorability!   Thus, someone with two prior felonies who gets them “redesignated” will now have two AUMA priors, which then allows any future criminal offenses to be charged as felonies! (See an example in footnote [2], below.) 

Thus, folks who are no longer working in the cannabis industry or who want licensing to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. may want to get their records redesignated.  Those who are still in the cannabis game, however, may want to leave well enough alone, since a prior cultivation felony is not priorable under H.S. § 11358(d)(1).  Arguably, it is legally invalid as-is, so why mess with a good thing?

2.   Declaring The Prior to Be Legally Invalid

AUMA says a person who has a criminal record for conduct that “would not have been guilty of an offense or who would have been guilty of a lesser offense” can now seek to have the sentence declared invalid or get it reduced to a misdemeanor.  This language is unclear, but I imagine most judges will read this to say that if one’s conduct would have been perfectly legal under AUMA, then they can get the conviction dismissed and sealed as “legally invalid.”  (Judge Couzins agrees.)  That means the conduct would not have been a crime under AUMA (which only allows 6 plants, 1 ounce of flower, and/or 8 ounces of concentrates), so the dismissal/sealing on grounds of “legal invalidity” will be far more difficult to obtain.
There is no question that those who have felony convictions for cultivating 6 or less plants (11358) are eligible to have their priors declared legally invalid, as are those who have possession for sale (11359) and transportation (11360) for possessing or transporting their personal stash (so long it’s a single ounce of flower and/or 8 ounces of concentrates).  

Everything else, however, is legally murky, as H.S. §§ 11359 and 11360 are not determined by quantity, and instead are focused on whether the conduct was being possessed, transported, or sold consistently with AUMA or MCRSA’s regulatory regimes, which presents somewhat of a quandary because these schemes are not yet in effect.  Presumably, however, if one’s conduct was within S.B. 420’s collective/cooperative defense as we know it today, that might also be sufficient for a declaration of legal invalidity, but that’s no slam dunk and may require an evidentiary hearing, depending on your DA. [3] 

One interesting issue will arise where the arresting or investigating officer(s), and/or their police reports, are no longer accessible due to the passage of time.  Since the prior conduct is presumed to be legal, and the burden is explicitly placed on the prosecution to prove otherwise, older convictions may more easily be declared legally invalid due to the prosecution’s simple inability to locate the old evidence.  This will be a huge asset to those cannabis foremothers and forefathers with felony convictions dating back to the 1980’s or earlier.
In any event, the prosecutor can always elect not to contest an application for legal invalidity and, thus, discussing these issues with opposing counsel in advance might save our clients from putting them through another emotional, costly, and often difficult evidentiary hearing on an old conviction. 
In closing, our clients are undoubtedly in a better position under Prop 64, since cannabis crimes now default to misdemeanors instead of felonies, and even those misdemeanors are allowable only where one cannot obtain a permit under MCRSA or AUMA.  This fundamental shift in the law provides defense attorneys new arrows in their quiver, with which to continue to strike down cannabis prohibition and keep people out of cages for a plant.  
<3, hb

[1] As the priors are statute-specific, a prior 11358 conviction should not be “priorable” in a future § 11359 case.  

Additionally, cultivation (11358) remains a felony where committed with an environmental crime, and transportation (11360) remains a felony where the cannabis is being transported out of state.  Sections 1135811359, and 11360 may also be charged as felonies where the defendant has a prior conviction for murder, child molestation, or other serious or violent crime.  This last rule seems like an odd thing for AUMA to throw into the mix, but I am not going to address it here in detail since most of us will rarely see that become an issue in the standard cannabis cases.

[2]           Take cultivation (11358) as an example:

If a person has two cultivation priors, they could seek to have them “redesignated” as misdemeanors, so their criminal history would show two prior violation of the new subsection (c) in H.S. § 11358.  That is great, in that their criminal history is now comprised of two misdemeanors instead of two felonies, a definite improvement.  Where this gets wonky, however, is that those two misdemeanors are also now “priorable” under H.S. § 11358(d)(1), since this section allows a felony charge where there are two priors of § 11358’s new subsection (c).

The same is true for possession in § 11359(c)(2), and also for transportation/sales in § 11360(a)(3)(B)

[3]   If that person already went to trial and used a collective/cooperative defense, it’s doubtful AUMA’s procedure will be interpreted to allow a mini-bench trial on the exact same issue in order to get a declaration of legal invalidity, but I suppose that remains to be seen. 

[4]    Note that H.S. § 11361.8 does not extend to priors for H.S. §§ 11366 or 11366.5, which was a common plea bargain for many cannabis crimes because they were wobblers and did not require registration as a narcotics offender.  These folks may still access the regular route for expungement and reduction under P.C. §§ 1203.4/17(b), and discretionary relief may be made more available due to Prop 64’s passage. 

Why I’m Voting Yes on 64: A Tortured Analysis

Admittedly, Prop 64 does nothing to alter the corrupted capitalist economic system in our nation.  That means that if-and-when cannabis enters the commercial market, it enters a capitalist commercial market where traditional market forces will be in play, for better or worse.  And I’m still voting yes. Here’s why:

I am a criminal defense attorney. My task each day is to defend those who are charged with cannabis felonies throughout the California. Prop 64’s primary redeeming quality is it will have a sweeping effect on current California’s cannabis prohibition, where cultivating cannabis is currently presumed to be a felony unless one can prove their conduct was medical and not for profit.  Today’s cannabis law and today’s cannabis industry simply do not match, which works to the advantage of law enforcement who often seize upon this confusion out in the cannabis fields to arrest famers first, and ask questions later.  

Importantly, illegal cultivation is a straight felony under SB 420 or MCRSA, as misdemeanor cultivation does not even exist in California law today. This should be a heightened concern to growers in ban counties, such as most of the Sierra foothills.  However, if 64 passes, any illegal conduct becomes a misdemeanor unless its (1) a person’s 3rd offense, (2) if the cultivation is conducted in conjunction with an environmental crime, or (3) if transporting out of state.  Even with the influx of cash to law enforcement from Prop 64, law enforcement does not have the same resources or authority to investigate misdemeanants as it does felons. Perhaps equally important, Prop 64 explicitly negates the smell of cannabis as the necessary probable cause that cops use to get into homes and cars. That’s a sweeping disadvantage to law enforcement and will have massive effects on how they can investigate our people. I cannot stress how important these changes could be for growers. 

Next, I am wary of those (often wealthy out-of-staters who moved to California in the recent years for the specific purpose of cultivating cannabis) who are advising those of us who were born here that the corporations are going to take over.  Those corporations are already here, my friends.  There are people at our own local policy meetings that would happily vertically integrate if they could and push the diversity of our small farms out of the market in favor of market domination. If we think the big guys have the small farmers’ backs today, we’re kidding ourselves. It is already happening.  The competitive application processes thus far around the state have been a bloodbath, as is often the case in a corrupted capitalist system such as ours. Steve DeAngelo of Harborside spoke in Nevada County recently and said the future of the small farmer is to lease space from the large cultivators!  And he wasn’t talking about Prop 64, folks. 

To some degree, the preservation and promotion of self is human nature, regardless of the economic system in play.  In fact, the most common question at my office is “how can I establish priority for future licensing?,” raising the inference that if there is a cap on number of permits, most folks want to be one of those few, to the exclusion of others.  Lets also take a moment to recall Prop 64’s allowance of priority and vertical integration sent hundreds—perhaps thousands—of NorCal growers to ill-advisedly rush to file for cooperatives prior to September 1 this summer. The same insane bumrush happened last December regarding the MCRSA priority. Trust me, someone out there is already gunning to throw other small farmers under the bus, Prop 64 or not.  Prop 64 just takes that felony bus and makes it a misdemeanor. 

In California, we should instead look closer at competitive capitalism, the effect of money in politics, and a grossly unjust legal system, rather than reject a second semi-legalization initiative.  Instead of infighting, I wish our community would focus on addressing the corruption in these underlying power systems, making sure that more small businesses, people of color, women and those with cannabis-related criminal histories, are supported in this new era.

Finally, a particularly violent anti-64 grower I know (in another County) has thrived in the black and grey market because his cannabis is subpar by all accounts, and has been so for years.  Market forces should drive out the growers who lie about their pesticide use or inflate the cannabinoid content.  The market will make sure the money he made in the past would now go to someone who does play by the rules, who is willing to have their cannabis tested by a laboratory, who pays taxes, and who makes sure their product is labeled truthfully; someone who makes sure to follow the appropriate regulatory process.  Small growers will be able to get their permits and can even thrive, if they are willing to do the hard work of increasing the quality of their brand, marketing their product well, banding with others, coming to the policy meetings to shape the regulations in their favor, and who will do the work required of legitimate business.

I admit this is a tortured doom-and-gloom analysis, and it saddens me that I just don’t see another option. Prop 19 was far better than Prop 64, so I doubt the next one is going to be better.  Who would fund another and more expensive legalization initiative after two failed in California? My heart is heavy about this, as the harsh realities of Prop 64 has exposed some of the darker sides of California cannabis, on both sides of the issue.  I can only pray we respect each other’s opinion and each others Constitutional and ethical imperitive to VOTE, and look forward to that day when we reunite in a meaningful way to focus on the greater problems we continue to battle: money in politics and a broken legal system.

Those evils will persist, regardless of the outcome of this election. Please do not let this divide our community any further.  Either way, we have so much work to do. 

#rise #dividedwefall #fuckthatCOINTELPROshit #protectourfarmers #sameteam 

My musical meditation for this sad soulful post is Murs, “The Time is Now.” 

Look, not now, but right now, it’s time to change the game,
A new style, something different, you know, uplifting,
New sound from the West that we all can get with it,
The Pacific to be specific.”  

#cali4life <3, ~hb

What to Know About Aerial Surveillance During Harvest

It’s October in NorCal, which means it’s officially harvest time in the outdoor cannabis growing counties, such as Nevada County, Yuba, Humboldt, Mendo, Lake, etc.  The leaves are yellowing and the smell of cannabis is wafting through the air.  As the outdoor grow season winds down, the Sheriff’s helicopters and fixed wing planes are in full effect in their last ditch effort to take down as many gardens as possible before the end of the month.  Since that means it’s time to hunker down and protect your year, our office decided to dedicate this blog to the laws that officers should follow when flying above your garden, and what you can do when you see them.   

First, all growers should know the basic laws regarding aerial surveillance.  Law enforcement aircrafts are not allowed to violate FAA rules, which mandate that fixed wing aircraft must fly at least 1000 feet above congested areas and 500 feet above sparsely populated areas.[1]  Helicopters can fly lower, at approximately 500 feet or even lower, so long that they aren’t “physically intrusive.” 

However, on the hill, we all know cops constantly violate these rules, particularly with helicopters. Thus, the question becomes: “What can you do about it?”  Here are a few actions that cannabis farmers can take when aircrafts are too close to your garden for comfort:

  1. Document it!

All aircraft have their identification numbers on the side.  If you can read them, it’s too close.  So write it down! Quietly take a photo or video, but don’t make a big stink about it. [2]  In fact, write down everything they do, particularly if they circle you or pass back and forth repeatedly (also called “aerial acrobatics”).  If law enforcement ever shows up at your garden, your lawyer will probably kiss you if you’ve already documented any of the following:

  • Date and time.
  • Aircraft number, color and other markings
  • Flight pattern (i.e. did they fly in a circular, zig-zag, or back and forth pattern? If so, how many times?)
  • Estimate how many feet the aircraft was above you. Was it at tree-top level? Could you see into the eyes of the pilot or any passengers? Can you document what any of them were wearing or doing?
  • MOST IMPORTANT: Document how the helicopter’s close altitude affected your senses.  Could you feel the wind from its wings? Could you feel dust being kicked up into your face? Was the noise deafening?  Were you scared for your safety?

    2. File a Complaint With the FAA

If the law enforcement aircraft is coming too close, the FAA should know! The FAA takes this seriously and will contact the pilot quickly. They may even ground the pilot if their conduct was dangerous.  You can file a complaint by emailing them at or using their online form here:  

This is strong medicine and should be used cautiously, as the FAA is a federal agency and their complaint form requires you to disclose your name and address. 

     3. Get Your State Law Game on Point

If you get a close fly-over, particularly one where the aircraft circled you, consider yourself officially on the Sheriff’s radar.  Thus, I advise all my clients who have a contact with law enforcement to consider it a warning, and for Goddess sake, take this opportunity to make sure your conduct complies with state law!!  I know trim is getting close and friends are starting to trickle into town. But this is a time to keep on your toes, not to relax. Not quite yet.  

Also take this opportunity to remind your staff they are not allowed to make any statements to law enforcement.  Never. None. Nada. NO STATEMENTS.  If you cannot do this due diligence because you’re either too scared or too lazy to have a grown-up conversation with your workers, get another job.  #truth

     4. Get Naked

This one is my favorite, but it only applies to helicopter surveillance of gardens on the same property as one’s home. The reason is that the law gives greater respect to that “intimate activity associated the sanctity of a man’s [or woman’s] home,” which means officers are not allowed to look as closely at those areas near a home where folks historically kept an outhouse, hung their bloomers, or sunbathed in the nude.  The more naked you are, the greater your “expectation of privacy.”  #seriouslytho 

In prepping for this blog, I actually took my staff up in a small plane and toured Nevada County!  To be sure, full season outdoor plants grown in a patch are easy to spot, even from a plane at 1,000 ft up.  While it was impossible to see inside a greenhouse with my naked eye, my cell phone camera did a fairly good job of spotting green-colored foliage from within greenhouses that had the sides rolled up.  So expect another blog in late February – prior to the outdoor planting time – discussing how to alleviate this easily-solvable problem (and how it is unwise to have an outdoor garden on the same site as a light dep or greenhouse!!).  But that’s a story for another day…
I close this post with a reminder that unlawfully obtained evidence may be suppressed in any criminal action, although it is near impossible to get it suppressed in a civil ordinance action.  So, yes, cops may legally cut you down, even if they learned about you illegally.  Know this!  Our sacred herb grown under the sun is soon ready to bless up, so please be safe out there during these final few weeks, my dear friends and family.
Much love, ~hb  
#roots #legalizeit #cali4life
As always, I end my blog posts with a musical meditation: John Holt’s legendary “Police in Helicopter,” a roots classic that’s been banging in every roots dancehall I’ve ever been in since I was a kid. And that’s no small number.   
We don’t trouble your banana, we don’t trouble your corn.
We don’t trouble your pimento, we don’t trouble you at all.
But if you continue to burn up the herbs, we gonna burn down your cane fields. 

 ‘nuff said.
*Written by Heather Burke. Legal research by Heather Burke and Sarah Smale.

[1] This rule applies to aircrafts owned and operated by law enforcement, as well as to those private carriers who contract with law enforcement.

[2] If you do take photos or video, please immediately get them to your attorney and then delete them from your phone.  If law enforcement does execute a search warrant, they will seize your phone and the photos/videos will be lost or used against you.  

Nevada County: “Let Us See Who Is Strongest.”

I was not designed to be forced.  I will breathe after my own fashion.  Let us see who is the strongest.” 
-Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience
To be sure, we are living though one of the most widespread acts of civil disobedience in modern history, as the cultivation of cannabis is sweeping through California and beyond in numbers we can barely begin to comprehend and in spite of any regulation that has attempted to ban it. 
In Nevada County, the full scale ban of all outdoor and commercial cultivation on the June 7th ballot, entitled Measure W, will do little-to-nothing to change this trend.  At best, Measure W is a temporary vindication of the moral majority in a conservative retirement County, a moralistic approach that cannot be effectively enforced considering the sheer numbers of humans involved in this honorable work.  To be clear, if W passes, the question is not if the ban will someday fail, but when it will fail.  

​Here’s why:   
At the most basic level, young people overwhelmingly agree with sensible cannabis regulations.  These youths will someday rise to take the seats of County Supervisors and, even better, the Sheriff.  Case in point: my 14-year-old son toured the Supervisors’ offices on a school field trip.  Upon meeting Supervisor Ed Scofield, he and his young colleagues wasted no time in grilling the elderly and hopefully out-going Supervisor about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of Measure W.  I talked to several of the children afterwards, and they said Scofield’s answers appeared rote, and didn’t jive with the reality each of them already knew to be true.  I cannot help but smile when I imagine these fresh-faced teens immediately spotting Scofield’s BS, holding their own against a failed policy that is literally aging before our eyes.  This scenario has replayed itself in my mind as a symbolic moment, and one that we should take to heart if Measure W passes.  
Even if it does pass, the pro-regulation camps have undoubtedly benefited in spectacular ways that will catapult us into the next fight, whatever that may be.  The greatest of these benefits is in the recent announcement that Nevada County has more registered Democrats that Republicans.  I’m sure the Sheriff had no idea that his pet project would motivate the most vibrant “Get Out the Vote” campaign ever seen in Nevada County, causing our historically red county to turn blue.  This is a truly fascinating development with far reaching implications that is likely causing some handwringing in the Republican establishment.  Not only will the new Democratic majority affect the two Supervisorial races also at issue this week, it more importantly and undoubtedly will have drastic impacts for generations to come.  So for that epic change to our County’s political landscape, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to our very own Sheriff Royal. 
Another unexpected side effect of Measure W is that it provided a pathway for numerous No on W folks to rise to local and even state-wide prominence.  Jonathan Collier, for example, was relatively low key before Measure W, but not since.  Jonathan has excelled in diplomacy, forging bonds with unlikely allies that I never thought possible.  Indeed, he was chosen to debate pro-W hothead, Supervisor Dan Miller, at the Democratic forum (and JC killed it!).  Diana Gamzon of the California Growers Association is another standout who whipped a disorganized bunch of No-on-W folks into a lean, mean, fundraising and public outreach machine. Mark Shaefer worked with the No on W Committee to raise a significant amount of funds for the PAC, a feat that few thought were possible considering the dearth of funds for 2014’s Measure S.  Last but certainly not least is Forrest Hurd, a father whose articulate and compelling story about how Measure W will harm his son Silas’ very life has reverberated throughout the State and nation.  The list of these rising stars goes on and on.
The Sheriff could have gone for the old fashioned “divide and conquer” method that some Bay Area cities are doing by giving out one or two permits, and then over-regulating those to death.  But instead he chose to unite us with a singular goal, and spawned a quick rise of articulate, well trained, and energetic cannabis superstars.  I could not have handpicked a better team of advocates to embark on the post-W journey with (whatever that may be) and, for that, I’m again grateful to the Sheriff for a new cadre of pro-regulation heavyweights that he created.  And it will not be long before others rise as well, as folks are becoming less and less scared of law enforcement retaliation with each passing day, particularly as they can now take safety in the great numbers of others who are also freely speaking out.  
Finally, it must be noted that the Nevada County pro-regulation community united against W in a way that we have never done before, precisely because we never had to.  Measure W thus provided the impetus for the rise of a tightly knit and supportive cannabis community, a community that did not exist in this way before January 12th.  Indeed, innumerable and life-lasting connections were made as our people rose to new levels together.  Win or lose, it truly has been a team effort.  With this newly united front, we’ve forever changed the face of cannabis in this community, and this beautiful face is here to stay
At the risk of sounding cliché, please remain encouraged, regardless of what happens on Tuesday.  Measure W’s impact will be fleeting, as it cannot stop the tides of reasonable cannabis regulation sweeping the nation. If it passes, we trod on, united.  So to the future, place your strong hopes there.

Then get back to work.
~Love, heather b.

#NevadaCounty #Rise #NoW

**​My musical meditation for this post is Nas and Damien Marley’s epic Strong Will Continue.  
“Stand up and fight if you know that you’re right and know you will never fail,
Tipping the scale and the wind shall prevail and the boat shall forever sail,
Hey, there ain’t no stopping or cruising,
Even when you’re battered and bruised,
Hold down all the sprinklers on Mt. Olympus,
My god’s tougher than Zeus.”

Basil’s June 7th Voting Guide

*** Heather’s Note:
If you’re from Nevada County, you are hopefully lucky enough to know and love Basil McMahon, an inspiring local artist and advocate.  Basil put out his voting guide for the June 7th election, and he’s on such point that I had to share.  See you at the polls!

Basil’s Voting Guide:

Here are my (Basil’s) endorsements for the California primary ballot. This is a voter-guide “cheat sheet” for down-ballot and local Nevada County races, so you don’t have to go out and do the extra research. Investigate. Speak up. Own your beliefs. Question Authority. Always vote, even if you spoil the ballot.
Fight like hell for your right to vote!

Thank you to everyone whose reached out to ask me- I’m honored that you would take my opinions into consideration. Take them with a critical awareness, and a grain of salt. I’m always open to learning, listening, and changing my mind. This time around, the ballot is pretty short, so I added some extra commentary. These are my own opinions and do not reflect those of any organization.

FOR MORE INFORMATION on progressive candidates to support in other races you can start here:


Bernie F*cking Sanders

Never in my life have i felt so proud to be able to support a presidential candidate. This is the kind of moment that defines a generation politically. Back on the day when he announced and I was posting left and right about feelin the bern, I would never have guessed he would get this far. RESPECT. If Bernie wins California by something like 75% to 25%, he could mathematically overtake Clinton in the pledged delegate count. That, unfortunately, is extremely unlikely to happen. Never give up if there’s still a mathematical possibility, but don’t fool yourself of the chances. If Clinton secures the nomination, low information voters and young millenials who have internalized their disenfranchisement and become disillusioned with the democratic process (heres looking at U!) will be quick to look for explanations as to why Bernie diddn’t win- and the most convenient explanations will be the ones that reinforce their worst suspicions about the election process being rigged. My only hope is that enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders, the dude who has been fighting from within the system for social and economic justice since before your parents were born, doesn’t turn into jaded apathy and suspicion of the “system” just because the results don’t reflect your preferred outcome. Are you going to give up fighting just because of the results of one rigged primary battle? Bernie wouldn’t do that 2 u now would he. He’s in it for the long haul.

Keep in mind, whoever the democrats nominate will be the last and only person standing in the way of a neo-fascist clown assuming the presidency. Yeah, it blows. Fun times!!
Fortunately for you, California Voter, you live in a safely democratic state, and you can vote for whoever you damn well please come november without worrying that voting for your conscience might run the risk of letting Trump win. Unless everyone else does, in which case, your American Individualism is running right up into your need to vote strategically. I know, i know, its hella awkward.

I will not however, in good conscience, recommend any vote that would increase the chances of a Trump presidency.


Kamala Harris

The current Attorney General of California is running to replace retiring senator Barbara Boxer (D) in a crowded field. The top two candidates will go to a runoff in November. Expect Harris (frontrunner) to go up against Loretta Sanchez, another democrat with less reliable ‘progressive’ credentials (every democrats’ favorite buzzword). Some people jokingly suggest Kamala Harris is the new female Obama. Elizabeth Warren has come out with a full force endorsement. A (relatively) progressive woman of mixed ethnicity in the United States Senate? we could use more of those.


Jeff Gerlach (NPP)

This is our “House of Represenatives” Congressperson seat. District 1 covers the entire north-eastern part of the state. Doug La Malfa, often photographed with his cowboy hat, is firmly entrenched in this safe republican seat. Unfortunately, due to partisan gerrymandering, District 1 is drawn up to be extremely difficult for a progressive candidate to win. Heidi Hall (now running for a Nevada County Supervisors seat) put up a formidable effort against La Malfa in last election cycle in 2014. Watching Hall debate La Malfa during this campaign, I learned that our current House Rep denies the existence of global warming, supports fracking, vilifies the obama EPA and generally personifies the worst characteristics of a tea-party obstructionist in congress. Yee Haw. I also gained alot of respect for Heidi Hall, who spoke persuasively and forcefully for not just progressive ideals, but simple rational thinking.

Unfortunately, La Malfa’s seat is a safe republican seat that no democrat, no matter how centrist, is likely to be able to steal away. Fortunately, that means you get to vote your conscience!

Jeff Gerlach has been a visible and consistent participant at local events concerning medical marijuana and has supported the efforts of the Nevada County California Growers Association. He has endorsed Bernie, stands for many progressive causes and has as good a chance as any unaffiliated candidate to stick it to the man.

— STATE SENATE Distrct 1

Rob Rowen (DEM)

Rowen is the only democrat running against Ted Gaines, the republican whose held the seat since 2011. Gaines diddn’t even bother to show up at a recent local candidates forum, hosted by the league of women voters- and shows his disdain for public deliberation. Jerkface.

Brian Dahle, the republican whose held the seat since 2012, is running unopposed. Write in a candidate. Perhaps “Banksy,” or “Hunter S. Thomson.”



Richard W. Harris

Richard Harris, a local insurance company professional, decided to step into the county supervisor race last minute against Ed Scofield, who is running for his third term in office representing the South County district. It takes a great deal of courage and character to stand up and offer yourself to public service, especially when competing against an established incumbent. I am especially grateful that Mr. Harris decided to stand for office, considering Ed Scofield ran un-opposed in the last election cycle (and did so only months after pushing hard to enact the highly restrictive marijuana growing ordinance of 2012). It was a unfortunate reflection of how poorly organized the progressive opposition was at the time that the community could let Scofield and his favored special interest groups stand unopposed in south county.
Scofield has been a stalwart opponent of medical marijuana ever since i moved to Nevada County. He was, notably, the only one out of the 5 supervisors who refused an invitation from the NC Cal Growers Association to have a one-on-one meeting after measure S failed in 2014. Unfortunately, the loudest and most influential voting bloc in South County is the ASPOA (Alta Sierra Property Owners Association), and Scofield is their main man.

Harris has reportedly been fighting back against a smear campaign, claiming he is a “big time” grower and one-issue candidate. Characters like Sheriff Keith Royal, Supervisor Ed Scofield and Don Besse of SAM have been implicated in accusations of slandering Harris, who recently penned a letter attesting to the fact that he has in years past grown 12 plants- and no more than 12 plants- to support the medical needs of his daughter, who has a debilitating disease.

This all speaks to the courage and character that it takes to put your hat in the ring and stand for local elected office. It is a sad testament to the tenor of county politics that a good citizen’s character would be impugned for simply being a cannabis provider for his own daughter’s medical needs. Dirty politics indeed.


Heidi Hall
Dwane Strawser

In District 2, two candidates are competing to replace retiring incumbent Nate Beason. Regardless of the outcome of the race between Hall and Strawser, the county will be much better off with Beason in the rear-view mirror. He has been an obstacle to progress in more ways than I can count. He played a principal role in pushing through the county’s outside events sound ordinance, which dictates that if you host more than 50 people on your private property after 10PM, you have to obtain a special permit from the sheriffs department. The consternation caused by this contentious edict alienated even some of the board’s more traditional allies, like the vinyards, the wedding industry, and the NC chamber of commerce. Nice work.

Now District 2 (which includes Nevada City and much of municipal Grass Valley) is presented with two very different options for who should take over the vacancy left by Beason. Heidi Hall- manager with the State Department of Water Resources (endorsed by the NC Democrats), and Dwane Strawser- Grass Valley City Councilman and bike shop owner (Endorsed by the NC Republican Party).

There is much ado concerning who is best suited to demonstrate leadership and effectiveness in Nevada County’s open supervisorial seat. In an era of conservative dominance on the county board AKA the Old Boys Club, some suggest that an outspoken advocate for progressive issues (especially if their voice is only one out of five) will be sidelined and marginalized- this is the spectre of political isolation that candidate Heidi Hall is combating. This veiled accusation- that she might be an ineffectual leader because she is outspoken and would be politically marginalized- is compounded by the fact that she is, of course, female, unlike the rest of the cowboys that runs the BOS.

This to me seems to be a classic example of patriarchy operating in the political sphere, which functions to dismiss and minimize the potential of a woman’s competency and efficacy in public roles of leadership traditionally reserved for men. Basically, its hella wack and I personally think that a woman’s voice, and wisdom, on the Board of Supervisors is sorely needed- particularly if that female voice speaks out in support of environmental justice, community diversity and democratic transparency. Mrs. Hall has shown courage and a willingness to be proactive and transparent in stating her positions, including a No vote on Measure W. If she is successful in her election, she will be an integral ally in the cause of smart and effective MMJ regulations in the county.

Dwane Strawser, her opponent, also running for District 1 Supervisor, does not fit into the neat “Republican” box that most people are trying to stick him into. He was recently a democrat, but changed his party affiliation to “Decline to State” shortly before this election. He has been endorsed by the local republican party, and has received a significant amount of funding from a tea-party affiliated PAC called Citizens for Good Governance. He has accepted these endorsements without protest, and it brings up concerns about the influence of money in politics that mirror the concerns clearly evident on the national political scene. Clearly, many on the right think he is a good safe investment.

Strawser has so far been unwilling to take a position on Measure W. This has been a red-line that many in the community view as disqualifying- they complain, rightfully so, that if you are going to stand as a public official, you should at least stand for something- one way or another. He has been accused of not having principles, and of wanting to play each side off the other for political gain.

My sense, after talking with Mr. Strawser about Measure W for some time, is that there is more nuance here than most people are willing to see. Strawser has shown a concerted effort to educate himself on the issue of Medical Marijuana in the county and what I feel like is a sincere intent to engage on the issue with the NC Cal Growers Association. In short, he has been alot more interested in dialogue and problem-solving than Nate Beason. He understands that Medical Cannabis is a big part of the local community and that we won’t be backing off this issue, even if measure W passes. He has shown a willingness to listen and seems sincere in his desire to find common ground to work through some of the problems the community is facing. If he ends up winning the election, he will be a key ally (despite whatever political stripes you want to paint on him) in crafting local policies which provide a regulated path forwards for good stewards of MMJ cultivation in Nevada County.


Yes. I think.

Vote No

Vote Hell No

Thanks for reading. 🙂 ~Basil. 

What the County Isn’t Telling Us About Their Cannabis Initiative

Only once in the conversation about Nevada County cannabis cultivation have we heard the Sheriff suggest “an overturn of the ban could lead to the formation of a committee that would search for alternatives to an outright prohibition on outdoor grows.” Not a word of this possibility was hinted at the Board of Supervisors meeting on January 12, nor in the official numerous statements in the fallout over the poorly drafted language of the two enactments, nor even in the purported “intent” language the Board will ratified on February 9th.

If indeed it is true that a “No” vote in June would indeed result in the formation of a commission to “search for alternatives to outright prohibition,” we must ask why the County is keeping this alternative secret, particularly where all parties agree cannabis cultivation is going to continue in spite of the ban: if growers flourished under threat of state and federal arrest, they will be undaunted by a civil land-use ban.  If it is not true that such a committee will be formed, your Sheriff just straight up lied to you.  Only one of those two things can be true. 

However, the Sheriff already conceded the ban will be ineffective as he immediately doubled his helicopter budget mere days after the ban was enacted. If the urgency ordinance was expected to be effective, why would the Sheriff need twice as many resources to locate gardens from the air? He wouldn’t.

And when all parties agree outright prohibition won’t work, but enact it anyway, the governmental purpose cannot be to stop the prohibited conduct. There must be another reason.  So what is the real purpose of the cultivation ban in Nevada County?

Its simple…

By expanding control over the subject matter, the Sheriff can shape discourse about cultivation to suit his partisan position (and the doubling of his budget) as we move towards the end of prohibition. We saw this play out at the BOS meeting where photos of gardens were purported to be “bad actors.” I was familiar with those photos, as many were of my clients’ gardens. The overwhelming majority were not diverting water and were “organic. None were cited because of smell.  Instead, the Sheriff located the gardens by air and called the “complaint” into the abatement unit themselves.

The Board sadly allowed the Sheriff to contort these “facts” to support a civil ban, which the Sheriff immediately bootstrapped into a need for increased crime surveillance. The need for more helicopters will soon become a need for more officers, and so on, ad infinitum

Rather than verify the Sheriff’s “facts,” the Supervisors rushed to enact a law they did not understand, as was made clear when they admitted the “emergency” ordinance will continue regardless of the June election. Then they incredulously downplayed the importance of their vote by demeaning compliance, suggesting growers violate the law.  Our Board Chair, Dan Miller, stated, “If you’re growing one, two plants outside… I don’t think there’s gonna be an issue.” He joked no one would notice cannabis plants placed inside a patch of artichokes, suggesting a manner to elude detection.  At the Town Hall meeting on the Ridge, Supervisor Hank Weston said growing outside was okay if neighbors didn’t complain, contradicting the clear message of the Sheriff’s request to double his helicopters.

How can the Board ask growers to respect a law the Supervisors don’t respect, particularly after they’ve flaunted the ease of violating it in the faces of those to whom the regulation really matters? When lawmakers irreverently advise the breaking of the very rules they enact, they breed disrespect for the entire rule of law.

After the vote, bitter disappointment spread throughout the community like wildfire, though the disappointment was not limited to the ban, as no one believes the ordinance will curb the tide (and the Sheriff already banked on it to the tune of $55,000). Rather, the bubbling excitement of all stakeholders – the hope that irrational prohibition was subsiding to make way for effective regulation – was thoughtlessly squelched, and with it the trust many of us have been building with patients and growers for decades. 

Instead, the Sheriff hints of a “commission” if-and-only-if we vote “No” on his woefully-drafted and expectedly ineffective ban on June 7th, which brings me back to my question of why the County has not told us a “No” vote could mean the formation of a committee purposed to bring growers into compliance, generate enough revenue to monitor compliance, and unite the community in an unprecedented effort. 

To be sure, if the County wanted effective cannabis policy, they would have sought it from the outset. However, as discussed above, effective regulation is not their point, lest the Sheriff’s role in the conversation (and thus his budget) be reduced.

When voting in June, please remember a “No” vote is a vote for regulations that work.

#NevadaCounty #NoW #Rise 

*Originally posted as Op/Ed on YubaNet here: What the County Isn’t Telling Us About Their Cannabis Initiative