$10,000 Per Day Fines Face Marijuana Growers Not in the Permit Process–Notices Began to Be Sent Out This Month
The letter contains two notices. According to Humboldt County Planning Department Director, John Ford, “One is a notice to abate and one is a notice violation…It is a way to let people know that the County is serious.” [Read the notice templates here–NOV (1) and NTA (1)]
“People who are in the permit process are not targets,” Ford said. However, he said, there are still code enforcement actions that are being taken to make sure that they also are not harming the environment.
Those who are receiving the letters are worried and angry, according to emails we’ve received. Ford responded to the objections. “One of the criticisms was that all the notices looked the same–that’s because all the violations looked the same,” he said. “They’re the same violations.” He particularly noted that illegal grading was a common theme across the parcels that received notices.
Ford explained the method of choosing the targets of the letter is relatively simple. He said, “We identify an area where there seem to be a number of unpermitted cultivation activities…We research to see if they are not permitted… We send a notice of violation and notice to abate and post in the Times Standard–two consecutive weekly ads.”
Ford said, “Our objective is not to levy huge fines. We want to bring sites that are not in compliance into compliance.” Ford said that the growers receiving the letters won’t necessarily face fines right away if they reach out to the Planning Department. “Our objective is to get them into a dialogue about how to resolve it within that 10 days,” he explained.
When an illegal grower who has received the letter contacts the Planning Department, Ford said, “We would ask are you willing to bring the site into compliance. We would look to set up a meeting to bring the site into compliance…. We want to offer the opportunity to give a time frame to bring the site into compliance…[However,] illegal activity needs to stop immediately.”
The object, Ford said, is not for the county to collect fines but rather to mitigate the environmental damage. “My primary hope is that we get sites into compliance,” he explained. “There will be costs associated with it. There will be fines and penalties, too, but the fines and penalties aren’t the prime objectives.”
The illegal growers that have received the letters have begun responding, Ford said in a series of interviews. “Every single person we sent the first batch of letters to has responded and met with county staff and are working towards a resolution….Some of them would like to get in the permit process but that really is not an option.” The permit process is currently closed to new applications. That might change but, Ford warned, it might not.
“A lot of the folks [getting the letters] have large amounts of grading and greenhouses that are constructed,” Ford said. “If we happen to find them [before they clean up their grows], they will be cited.”
He added that though there are a large number of illegal grows, County is increasing staff. “There are a lot of people who think the County is being way too lenient with the cannabis community,” he pointed out. “A lot of people complaining there is no enforcement. I think in the coming days, weeks, month that this will look very different.”
Ford pointed out that the County is expecting push back on their environmental report. “We’re likely to get challenged on the EIR for lack of enforcement,” he said. He then warned, “We expect enforcement will continue to ramp up. We don’t expect to be stopping for the winter.”
He had advice for illegal growers who had not yet received their notices. “Start mitigating before they are found,” he said. “Right now that is the only solution. That is the hard truth.”