Call it a 10 million dollar gamble.
The Pinoleville Pomo Nation and FoxBarry Farms, famous for their investment in casino and gasoline businesses, are linked at the hip in a new venture to pursue large-scale marijuana production on the reservation.
Background: the justice department indicated that tribes can pursue legal marijuana in accordance with their tribal authority. That rulemaking came down in December 2014. At the time, local authorities in Riverside seemed skeptical that anything would happen:
“We don’t enforce federal law, we enforce state law, so any change in the federal law isn’t going to affect us necessarily,” said Capt. Ray Wood, commander of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department’s Hemet Station and head of the department’s Tribal Liaison Unit.
The department meets regularly with tribal leaders to discuss all aspects of law enforcement, he said. Marijuana has not been a focus of those meetings, and it doesn’t appear the drug exists more on Indian land than other parts of the county.
As usual, reality moves quicker than government.
The operation referenced in the original article involves 2.5 acres of indoor cultivation. That’s several thousand plants. The Mendicino County plan is joined by at least two other indoor cultivation sites sponsored by FoxBarry. Those involved are being coy on the location of the other two operations.
We’re talking tons of marijuana coming into circulation in the few months it takes to grow the first generation of plants. Sources say that construction of the greenhouses, relatively simple structures, would end by February. So we’re looking at a major harvest at the Mendicino site by the summer.
Local political officials and law enforcement looks entirely befuddled by this turn of events. In my opinion, after reading three articles on the subject, they did not expect production to move this fast.
Law enforcement’s reaction:
Sheriff Tom Allman said he’s not convinced the operation would be legal. He’s spoken with officials at the U.S. Attorney’s Office who said they have not been asked for or given permission for such an operation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has declined to comment on the issue.
But federal authorities in the past have quashed other large-scale, off-reservation cannabis cultivation operations.
Allman said that any operation that wouldn’t be permitted off-reservation is unlikely to be allowed on Indian land.
Allman’s queries have triggered an investigation by District Attorney David Eyster, spokesman Mike Geniella said. Eyster has requested details about the plans from the tribe and FoxBarry, Geniella said. Eyster will not comment on the plan until his review is concluded, he added.
So you see the lines being drawn: Sheriff Allman doesn’t believe it’s legal, and contacts the US Attorney’s Office. The feds stay mum. Giant red flag right there if you’re ready to bust an operation in your county, right? The good sheriff contacts his own District Attorney, who begins their own investigation.
Coming down somewhere in the middle is the County’s CEO:
“They can do whatever they want,” Mendocino County Chief Executive Officer Carmel Angelo said. The tribe will be exempt from the county’s zoning ordinance aimed at controlling the number and locations of marijuana plants grown for medical use.
This distinction about number and location is important, because CA law limits the number of plants grown for medical purposes. Tribes don’t abide by that law, because they inhabit federal land!
County supervisors look equally stumped:
The tribe did not notify county officials of its plans, so news of the pot-growing facility caught them off guard. “I’m a bit taken aback,” said county Supervisor Carre Brown. She noted that many of the tribes consult with the county about development projects as a courtesy, even though they’re exempt from its planning process.
The tribe, with that federal rulemaking, sidestepped the state completely, going their own way. Does she sound like someone with a handle on the situation? Not to me. Here’s more, from another supervisor:
“None of this really surprises me,” he said. “I just wish there was more we could do about it.” Hamburg said he’d prefer that the county have some control over marijuana production and the ability to collect taxes on the product. He’d also prefer to see smaller, outdoor growing operations. “My heart is really with the small grower community,” Hamburg said. He also believes that outdoor gardens create fewer environmental impacts than indoor farms. “From an ecological perspective, that does not sit well with me,” Hamburg said of the tribe’s operation.
Ah, well, there we go. Someone in state government finally saw the cash flow problem. And who wouldn’t agree with him about the ecological problems? But if you are the tribal authorities and feel under the gun, you wouldn’t want anyone snooping around your massive, unprecedented grow. If Mendicino county officials want in on that delicious tribal weed and the associated cash, they should liberalize the drug marketplace.
Last, but not least, it’s interesting to me that the herb will only be sold to licensed medical providers. That’s a savvy move by the tribes. If they began selling off-the-reservation for recreational purposes, they’d be tripping a few regulatory problems:
The marijuana will be sold only to California medical marijuana patients through dispensaries, in keeping with state law, Brautman said. There currently are no plans for a dispensary on site, he said.
My guess is that the tribes will test the regulatory waters with this first harvest, and see where CA goes in 2016. By then they’ll have some of the largest legal gardens in the state.
Sovereignty is the word of the day.