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Published on September 26th, 2014 | by Daniel R. Perlman


Restitution and Pot Growing in Mendocino County

With attitudes in California about the use of marijuana gradually relaxing, the county of Mendocino has devised a method of garnering it’s share of proceeds from the lucrative pot growing industry. Because of the seemingly conflicting laws concerning pot growing, it is legal in some situations (i.e., growing for medical use) and illegal in other situations (i.e., growing for profit). Illegal “grows” in Mendocino county are frequently busted and the growers usually face felony charges under current laws.

An enterprising Mendocino County District Attorney, David Eyster, recognized that a section of the California health and safety code, intended to reimburse police for the cost of cleaning up meth labs and pot grows, could be used to separate wealthy pot growers from a little of their cash.

This section of the health and safety code provides for restitution – payments from defendants – as reimbursement for actual enforcement costs. In practice, a defendant waives an itemized accounting of enforcement costs and agrees to an amount owed that the DA says is “reasonable.” DA Eyster sets the restitution at $50 per plant and $500 per pound of processed pot seized. Eligible suspects can then plead to a misdemeanor and get probation in exchange for paying restitution.

The restitution program is available only to growers with minor criminal backgrounds and who have not flagrantly violated California’s somewhat ambiguous laws on medical marijuana. Growers who trespass, grow on public lands or degrade the environment are not eligible for the payment of restitution.

Critics of the system contend that it creates the incentive for law enforcement to focus on larger, more lucrative grows in preference to smaller targets. In response, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman says his deputies do not have the time or inclination to use the restitution policy for profit. “If I wanted to use this as a business plan, I’d have 12 people on my eradication team,” Allman said. He has two. A federal grand jury is investigating county programs that derive revenue from marijuana enforcement.

Daniel R. Perlman, Esq.

Law Offices of Daniel R. Perlman

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