Officials in Mendocino County have complied with a federal subpoena to hand over records related to its discontinued medical marijuana registration system. Previous agreements with the feds allowed the county to redact personal information from the request, but the new subpoena has officials turning over “a limited number of unredacted county records,” reports the Sonoma Press-Democrat.
When Mendocino County began its zip-tie registration program for medical marijuana growers, it was hailed as an innovative way to register. Sheriff Tom Allman was seeking a way to protect the rights of legitimate patients under California’s Compassionate Use Act who wished to grow up to 25 plants for their medicinal use. The problem is that the county is part of the legendary “Emerald Triangle” where non-medical growers produce cannabis crops for export to the national recreational market.
The zip-tie program began in March 2010. PBS’ "Frontline" reported on the program that allowed individual growers to purchase up to 25 labeled zip-ties from the county for $25 apiece. Collectives could get up to 99 zip-ties for $50 apiece, provided they supplied a $1,500 special permit and submitted to $500 monthly inspections. Those ties would be affixed to plants so when sheriffs were called to a marijuana grow, they could easily identify the legal medical marijuana grows. Patients and collectives were protected, the county made some money, and the sheriffs could focus on illegal marijuana grows.
That all ended in February 2012. Federal prosecutors warned Mendocino County it was in violation of federal drug laws. Of course, every county and every state that allows for medical marijuana is in violation of those laws. But to the feds, Mendocino was not just tolerating medical grows but openly facilitating them. Rather than face the risk and expense of a court battle, the county ended the zip-tie program that was remarkably popular and successful.
Now Mendocino County has complied with a federal subpoena to relinquish redacted records from that nearly two years of permitting medical grows. Last October, a grand jury requested all the records, including the identities of every grower who participated. County Counsel Thomas Parker resisted the subpoena, concerned about the privacy of more than 90 growers who registered for the zip-ties.
In April, the feds agreed to allow the county to redact the personal information from each grow record, including the names of the growers and the addresses and parcel numbers of the grow. But a subpoena from September 25 requests the unredacted records from a more limited set of grows. “The Board of Supervisors directed that the records be provided to the federal grand jury as requested by the subpoenas,” wrote Parker. Federal law prohibits the county from mentioning which records were turned over or whether they contain personal information.