Bowing to federal pressure, Mendocino County will no longer issue permits to medical marijuana growers. The County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to end the popular permit program, which was the first of its kind in the nation.
The vote also makes it illegal to cultivate more than 25 plants, reducing the amount from the previous limit of 99 plants. The county will not continue to issue permits, but will not prevent growers with existing permits -- who are operating under state law -- to continue growing a plot of 25 plants or less.
Dozens of medical marijuana growers who packed a conference room in Ukiah today expressed passionate support for the permitting program. One speaker who identified himself as Nick said the decision to stop regulating marijuana cultivation would be a boon for illegal growers.
"With no inspectors, no sheriffs, nothing like that present, it’s just going to bring back an era of lawlessness that we had before."
But Supervisor Dan Hamburg said a threatened lawsuit by US Attorney Melinda Haag gave the county little choice but to stop issuing permits.
"If I were a private citizen, I would be railing against the federal government, saying 'we should put every last resource this county has to fighting the feds.'
But a fight between Mendocino County and the federal government would make David and Goliath look like a fair fight."
The decision could force the county to lay off sheriff’s deputies due to a loss in fees earned from growers who participated in the permit program. Nearly 100 people signed up for last year's pot harvest.
KQED News and California Watch have collaborated in covering thriving medical marijuana industry in the state, as well as the federal government's crackdown on local medical marijuana growers. Mendocino County's permitting program was the subject of a KQED TV Special, "The Republic of Cannabis," which aired last summer.
Recently we conducted extensive interviews with Tommy LaNier, who directs the White House-funded National Marijuana Initiative and opposes legalized marijuana and John McCowen, the chairman of the Mendocino Board of Supervisors who helped design the ordinance.
Back in October, the Drug Enforcement Agency raided the growers cooperative Northstone Organics. This surprised many medical marijuana supporters, in part because Matt Cohen's was considered to be a model business in the Mendocino County permitting program. Here are post-raid follow up interviews with Cohen, Supervisor McCowen and federal officials:
Watch California Raids Threaten Medical Marijuana Regulation on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.