Mendocino County Must Fight Federal Subpoena for Medical Marijuana Records
Board of Supervisors and County Counsel to hold closed-door meeting Tuesday after 9am public comment period
Ukiah, CA -- The Mendocino Board of Supervisors and County Counsel Thomas Parker are scheduled to meet in a closed-door session Tuesday to discuss a pending federal subpoena for records held by the Sheriff's now-defunct medical marijuana cultivation program, County Code 9.31, in which registrants were allowed to grow collectively up to 99 plants and were sold zip ties for $25 per plant to show they were being cultivated in compliance with state law. Medical marijuana patient advocates are urging the county not to comply with the subpoena and attempt to quash it. A brief public comment period is scheduled for 9am Tuesday just prior to the closed-door session.
"The federal government is continuing to abuse its authority by demanding records for a state-approved cultivation program that has already been shut down due to Justice Department intimidation," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access (ASA). "Not only are private patient records at issue here, but this type of harassment signals a blatant attempt to undermine the implementation of state law." According to the Ukiah Daily Journal, federal authorities used a grand jury to subpoena "financial records the county of Mendocino keeps regarding its medical marijuana ordinance," and others have speculated that private patient information is also being sought.
The federal government has escalated its attack on California's medical marijuana law over the past two years, but has focused particular attention on Mendocino County. In 2010, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided the legal crop of Joy Greenfield, who was the first cultivator to register with the Sheriff’s Office in the widely popular program that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars of new revenue for the county. No arrests were made in the Greenfield raid, but all of her and her patients’ medicine was destroyed. The DEA then raided the registered farm of Matt Cohen and Northstone Organics in October 2011. Mendocino Sheriff Tom Allman commented at the time that, “As far as I know, Matt Cohen and Northstone Organics were following all of the state laws and local ordinances that are in place.”
In January, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag approached then-County Counsel Jeanine Nadel and some members of the Board and apparently threatened to file an injunction against the program and seek legal action against county officials who supported it. So, in March, at Nadel's recommendation, the Board voted to end the program. However, not satisfied with that outcome, the federal government issued a subpoena in October to the Mendocino County Auditor-Controller's Office. And though the DEA and U.S. Attorney could "neither confirm nor deny" that a subpoena was issued, Sheriff Allman has indicated publicly that he provided documents to the county's attorney.
A federal subpoena for the records of 17 patients held by the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) was quashed in 2007, after the Oregon Attorney General successfully defended the OMMP and the privacy rights of patients in federal court. However, last year the Justice Department was successful at obtaining the records of 7 unknown patients from the Michigan Department of Community Health, after State Attorney General Bill Schuette.failed to defend the privacy rights of Michigan patients despite such protections explicitly outlined in state law. California Attorney General Kamala Harris has not yet commented on the federal subpoena in Mendocino County.
Earlier this year, ASA invited the Mendocino Board of Supervisors to join a Tenth Amendment lawsuit against the Justice Department for commandeering the local law and the advocacy group has since renewed the invitation. "If the county doesn't stand up to the federal government, then we will represent the interests of medical marijuana patients in this matter," continued Elford. ASA is committed to challenging the federal government's actions and is developing a legal strategy for such contingency.
ASA has been working with the Emerald Growers Association (EGA) in urging local officials to resist federal intimidation. EGA advocates on behalf of medical marijuana cultivators in the Emerald Triangle region of California and has said in previous statements that these latest federal actions "undermine and chill the County's ability to effectively regulate cannabis cultivation," and "endanger the public health, welfare and safety of Mendocino County residents."