Saturday, April 18, 2009

Plastic Ties, Weed, and Taxation with Representation

6/24/2009 update
As is normal for governmental deliberations, it took two months longer than anticipated. But on Tuesday, June 23, 2009, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors by unanimous vote added the voluntary medical marijuan zip tie fee of $25 per plant to the County's master fee schedule.

Details of the administrative process are still being debated in committee. Fourth District Supervisor Kendall Smith reported the final committee recommendations wouldn't be ready until after the start of the 2009/10 fiscal year. Board Chairman John Pinches indicated that the fee would be reduced for veterans and disabled patients.

Perhaps embracing the national general discussion on the wasteful War on Drugs, marijuana, and the need for tax revenue, on Monday the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors will take up a "zip tie" proposal at a special meeting.

In Mendocino County the traditional start of the marijuana outdoor growing season begins in April. Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman is reprising a program tested in 2007 - medical marijuana zip ties. Allman's office distributed 1,500 test zip ties in 2007 test.

Under the new proposal the zip ties would be sold by the Public Health Department in order to assure compliance with the privacy provisions of the
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Applicants would be required to present their California Medical Marijuana Card. They will be issued six zip ties unless their doctor recommends more. Allman is proposing that the charge be $25 per tie with a 50% discount for Medicare patients. The ties would be wrapped around the base of the plant and would be imprinted with
"Mendocino County MMP" and a serial number.

In an interview with Ukiah Daily Journal reporter Rob Burgess, Allman said:
"A zip tie acts like a prescription bottle. Whereas before deputies would spend three hours investigating a marijuana garden, now they'll be able to do that in five minutes. Before legal patients were concerned that, What if I'm gone? Will the cops take my marijuana?' With this they don't have to worry about that. This serial number will speak for them. This is the identification mark for this."

Allman said they would be monitoring for counterfeit ties.

While some see this as a taxation program, in fact the proposal is that half the money collected would go to fund a half-time employee in the Public Health Department and half would go to the County General Fund which does support the Sheriff's Office.

The goal is to begin to create
a clearly separate identity for legal growing in order to identify illegal commercial growing.

The commercial growing of marijuana has become an identifiable problem for law enforcement in California's North Coast. In discussions with a member of the cooperative drug enforcement task force of federal, state, and local personnel, this writer learned that in the past few years raids of several large gardens in National Forests and other state and local forest lands have resulted in the arrest of Mexican citizens with apparent ties to the infamous Mexican drug cartel.

In 2000 Mendocino County voters approved Measure G which called for the decriminalization of marijuana when used and cultivated for personal use, making it the first county in the nation to do so. In 2008 County voters approved Measure B which repealed portions of Measure G making local regulations conform to state law implementing the provisions of the statewide voter approved Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (Proposition 215).

Under guidelines issued by the California Attorney General's office, persons who have qualified as patients or primary caregivers may grow no more than six mature or twelve immature plants per patient. Counties and cities are allowed regulations that would permit qualified persons to possess more.

The narrow passage of Measure B was not a rejection of the concept of decriminalization of marijuana. The most significant problem while Measure G was in effect was that gardens within urban and suburban neighborhoods gave off fumes and odor from growing plants.

This writer can speak from personal experience that at certain times during growing season, his yard became unusable because a neighbor's garden gave off fumes so strong that your eyes and sinuses would burn. And the odor is not similar to the not-so-offensive smell of smoking marijuana as it is like living adjacent to a chemical processing plant. This is a land use issue which, if marijuana were legalized, could be regulated by zoning in a manner that all commercial agriculture is regulated.

Given the general discussion around the nation about legalization/taxation of marijuana, it is not a surprise that some outside Mendocino County believe this is an attempt to tax the large annual marijuana crop grown within the County. While the zip tie proposal certainly creates a system of fees that theoretically could expand to a significant revenue producing mechanism much like the "tax stamps" placed on liquor bottles, at this point in time it only applies to medical marijuana growing for patients who live in Mendocino County. No significant revenue is represented by the proposal.

However, one cannot ignore the "winds of change" within the state. The San Francisco Chronicle Political Writer Carla Marinucci recently reported that for the first time the since EMC Research began tracking attitudes about legalization of marijuana a clear majority of voters say marijuana use should be generally legalized with 54% in favor and 39% against.

Prominent conservatives and liberals have long advocated legalization of marijuana as part of a change in the approach to the war on drugs. Even Fox News' weird right-wing talking head Glenn Beck blurted out on February 25:
"...Look, I'm a libertarian. You want to legalize marijuana; you want to legalize drugs — that's fine."

But Monday's Mendocino County Supervisors' discussion is much more mundane. It's about procedures and processes to help law enforcement distinguish between lawful medical marijuan plants and illegal plants.

Oh, and it likely will generate enough revenue to fund personnel to administer the rules.
As Allman noted: "Three years ago when we first offered this some of the other sheriff's snickered, But now, zip ties are going to be something other counties are going to look at. If this is successful, other counties could view this as a model."