[Photo by Bradley Allen: A cutdown cannabis plant in San Lorenzo Valley.]
Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Officers Raid San Lorenzo Valley Cannabis Gardens
By Bradley Allen (@BradleySA)
On the morning of Friday, August 14, dozens of residents of Boulder Creek gathered in a downtown coffeeshop in response to police raids of medical cannabis gardens. People took turns explaining what they experienced the prior day when members of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office’s newly formed Marijuana Compliance Team visited their homes and gardens.
Two of the medical cannabis patients whose garden was raided questioned why their 40 plants shared among three housemates was cutdown to only seven plants. Many people were very angry and stated that they had been growing in compliance with the county's current medical cannabis cultivation laws: "Ordinance No. 5176. Ordinance Adding New Chapter 7.126 Relating To The Cultivation Of Medical Cannabis."
On August 13, sheriff's officers targeted properties on Moonrise Road in Boulder Creek. There were also unconfirmed reports of raids on Amber Ridge Loop. Using a bullhorn, officers entered some of the properties, breaking through gates, with their guns drawn and announced, "We're here to cut you down."
A single search warrant for numerous gardens, signed by Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Paul Marigonda, had a list of 15 GPS coordinates, but no addresses or names.
No Respect for the Law: Chapter 7.126
Numerous reports strongly suggest that Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart and the Marijuana Compliance Team are operating in violation of the existing cannabis cultivation law, Chapter 7.126 of the Santa Cruz County Code. Reports that officers in many cases reduced gardens to 10 x 10 square feet or to only six plants suggest, at best, that officers are acting under the misimpression that a countywide cultivation ban is in effect, when in fact it is not.
Lowell Finley, an election law lawyer based in Oakland, explained in a typed statement provided to this author that section 7.126.040 of Ordinance No. 5176 allows up to 99 cannabis plants to be cultivated on a parcel in an appropriately zoned area, based upon minimum parcel size and maximum plant canopy restrictions.
Furthermore, Finley explains, "The only civil, as opposed to criminal, remedy that can be enforced by the Sheriff acting as the ordinance's Enforcement Officer, as opposed to the Planning Director, with a court or administrative hearing, is abatement as a public nuisance. And under the ordinance, abatement as a public nuisance requires ten days advance notice to the occupant of the parcel."
Multiple people said that even after asking officers, they were not told which laws were allegedly being enforced. Some people reported that the officers reduced their gardens to 10 x 10 square feet or six plants.
Chronology of Santa Cruz County Cannabis Cultivation Laws
Lowell Finley writes, "The Medical Cannabis Cultivation Ordinance adopted by the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on February 25, 2014, as Ordinance No. 5176 has been in effect continuously since March 28, 2014, the 31st day after adoption. Ordinance No. 5021, passed by the Board of Supervisors of April 14, 2015, to replace Ordinance No. 5176 with a ban on most cannabis cultivation in the County, never went into effect. It was the subject of a successful referendum petition signature drive and was subsequently repealed by unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors."
On March 24, 2015, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 before an overflowing room to ban the cultivation of cannabis in all unincorporated territories of the county, with limited exceptions. The ban, adopted on April 14, was suspended after a successful referendum, before it was set to go into effect on May 15, 2015.
In light of the very successful referendum campaign, the Board of Supervisors had the choice of either repealing their ban or putting the decision up for a popular vote in a special election. At their August 4 meeting, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors opted to repeal their ban.
Marijuana Compliance Team: Let's Make a Deal
Despite the ban being repealed, officers with the Marijuana Compliance Team appear to be operating under the premise that gardens larger than 10 x 10 square feet are in violation of Santa Cruz County law. Several people reported that officers were making deals with them about how many plants the officers would leave standing. For example, one person stated that he and his friend helped officers carry away plants in exchange for the officers leaving them with a few extra plants.
Sheriff's officers not only left with cannabis plants, they also questioned people and confiscated a range of items, including cash, video recording equipment, and cell phones. A man being cooperative gave officers the combination to unlock the screen on his phone. The officers then told him he could retrieve it in a week.
In another raid, officers reportedly told people, "If you're cool, we'll leave you some plants. If you're a dick, we'll cut you down." The officer leading the raid allegedly said, "Tell me who blows wax in the valley." Wax is a term for concentrated cannabis oil extracted from dried flowers and leaves. The extraction method may involve the use of butane gas which can be dangerous in a closed environment.
It's The Same Old Thing
It was also alleged that Marijuana Compliance Team officers made sexually harassing statements to a patient whose plants were chopped down. While helping the officers carry away plants, as part of a deal, they allegedly called her "Sugar" and said she looked "strong."
The Marijuana Compliance Team raided at least one property in Felton on August 14. There are also unconfirmed reports of raids on Two Bar Road. Unless something changes, there are no signs of them slowing down any time soon.
Background Information and Resources
- January 2015: Cannabis Advocates Alliance Letter to Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors
- March 2015: New Cannabis Prohibitions in Santa Cruz County
- May 2015: Referendum Suspends Santa Cruz County Ban on Medical Cannabis Cultivation
- June 2015: Supervisors Leopold and Friend Propose Cannabis Cultivation Choices Committee
- Current Law: Chapter 7.126 Santa Cruz County Code for Medical Cannabis Gardens
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"Sheriff was all over Ormsby cutoff earlier this week cutting plants and bullying citizens."The Two Bar Road raids mentioned above were also confirmed in a comment:
"I can confirm the raids off two bar, as I was one of them. My and my neighbor’s property share a hillside, and both were raided, yet they were considered one property, despite my neighbor trying to inform them that they’re in fact 2 different properties. All of my plants were cut down, but my neighbor was left 2 10×10 areas. I was not home at the time of the raid, and was left no paperwork. My neighbor was given a receipt for my plants and his combined."