After one attempt in front of an administrative hearing officer and two attempts in court to get around Sutter County’s new marijuana cultivation ordinance banning outdoor grows, a 300-plant cultivation on Catlett Road in the Pleasant Grove area was voluntarily abated Monday morning.
The operation, on land leased by Cal Farms Medical Supply at 219 West Catlett Road, is the largest known cultivation to date in Sutter County. In court documents filed in connection with the grow, the attorney for Cal Farms claimed an investment of $80,000 was made in establishing the marijuana cultivation.
An inspection by Sutter County Development Services and the Sutter County Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday confirmed that all of the plants have been cut down and were being removed from the property. In addition to losing the investment in the plants, those leasing the property and the property owners will be on the hook for administrative penalties, enforcement costs, and even taxes on the plants and farming equipment. The full cost is still being calculated.
“This is a tremendous, combined effort by the departments of Sutter County,” said Board Chairman Larry Munger. “Our ordinance bans commercial grows, bans outdoor grows and establishes fines of $1,000 per day for grows that are out of compliance. For those who really need access to medical marijuana and want to grow it, there’s a way to do it that is a lot easier than a lot of other places. We’ve even made it so you don’t need a building permit for pre-fabricated greenhouses which do not exceed 80 square feet in size. But no commercial grows or outdoor grows are allowed in Sutter County.”
Fifth District Supervisor Barbara LeVake was very pleased with the results. “A special thank you to the Sheriff, County Counsel and Development Services for their hard work in abating this large grow in my district,” she said. “My constituents are very pleased with the results.”
As of the second week of August, Sutter County had responded to 60 complaints of alleged marijuana gardens in violation of the County’s new ordinance, and had found 54 outdoor marijuana gardens. Of those, 45 have been voluntarily abated. After visits by the County to the property, “we’re getting a high rate of voluntarily compliance,” said Danelle Stylos, Director of Development Services. None of the gardens, however, have been as large or presented the legal challenges posed by the Catlett Road property.
On June 30, Development Services received an official complaint about marijuana growing outside on the Catlett Road property. On July 8, County personnel inspected the property and issued a Notice of Violation, which included an order that the marijuana be abated by July 18 or the property owner appear at an administrative hearing. Attorney Mitchell L. Abdallah of Sacramento appeared before Administrative Hearing Officer Michael Johnston on behalf of Cal Farms Medical Supply and argued that because his clients had relied on the previous version of the Marijuana Cultivation ordinance, they should be allowed to continue to operate. Johnston disagreed, and ordered abatement by August 5.
The order also imposed administrative penalties of $1,000 per day if the cultivation was not removed prior to August 6. When the cultivation was not removed by that date, Sutter County imposed administrative penalties in the amount of $30,000, billing 30 days at a time.
Abdallah appealed Johnston’s ruling, first to Sutter County Superior Court, and later to the Third District Court of Appeal, arguing the marijuana farm should be permitted to remain under the old rules. The County opposed his request and argued the new ordinance, adopted March 22, applied to all properties regardless of whether they met criteria under the older ordinance. Judge Perry Parker of the Sutter County Superior Court agreed with the county and refused to issue a stay of enforcement.
Abdallah then appealed that ruling to the Third District Court of Appeal which denied the appeal on August 11 upholding Judge Parker’s order.
Because Cal Farms ultimately abated the cultivation on August 15, the administrative penalties were reduced from $30,000 to $10,000 to reflect the actual number of days that the cultivation was allowed to remain on the property after the August 6 deadline set by the Administrative Hearing Officer.
Under the ordinance, administrative penalties which are assessed in 30 day increments may be reduced proportionately when proof is provided to Development Services that the cultivation has been removed. In this case, the cultivation was removed 10 days after the penalties were imposed so the amount was reduced from $30,000 to $10,000. However, the County is calculating the cost of enforcing the ordinance, including the time of law enforcement and code enforcement personnel, and the cost of County Counsel personnel.
Additionally, Sutter County Assessor Todd Retzloff said his office will also be assessing the property owner the value of each of the marijuana plants and all of the associated agricultural equipment on the property, as he is allowed to do under state law.