A group of Lake County medical marijuana patients who grow their own pot is seeking a restraining order in federal court in San Francisco seeking to halt what they’re calling “paramilitary-style” pot raids being conducted by the county under its new cultivation ordinance.
The court on Tuesday heard the request but did not make a decision, according to Lake County Counsel Anita Grant.
The plaintiffs of the related lawsuit contend marijuana raids conducted without warrants or warnings over the past several weeks are in violation of their state and federal constitutional rights to protection from unlawful search and seizure and invasion of privacy and to due process.
The legal challenges are the latest round in a long-running battle over Lake County officials’ attempts to regulate marijuana cultivation in one of the state’s top pot-producing counties. The fight includes two competing measures on the November ballot.
The restraining order request and related lawsuit, which was filed Friday, follow an outpouring of complaints from pot growers at a county Board of Supervisors’ meeting two weeks ago.
“The County of Lake has not demonstrated that they intend to let up in their crusade against medical marijuana patients,” said Joe Elford, the San Francisco-based attorney representing the eight plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
While the lawsuit is about medical marijuana patients being unfairly targeted, “it’s more about privacy and property interests that should be protected by the state and federal constitutions,” he said.
The lawsuit specifically challenges the implementation of Lake County’s Measure N, approved by voters in June. The new ordinance allows outdoor cultivation only on parcels larger than an acre with a maximum of 48 plants on agricultural parcels larger than 20 acres. Gardens are forbidden in so-called “growth areas,” which include rural subdivisions.
Measure N also allows code enforcement officers to initiate eradication of plants when rules are violated. In the cases in question, officers were accompanied by deputies and a state wildlife official.
Law enforcement officials said they’re allowed to do warrantless searches and eradications when plants are being grown in open fields. Elford said the so-called “open fields doctrine” does not allow warrantless searches of fenced yards adjacent to homes.
Sheriff’s officials told supervisors that they also obtained permission from the property owners to search less visible yards, but Elford said at least half his clients weren’t home at the time their plants were seized.
At least one county supervisor, Denise Rushing, has expressed concern about the way in which the raids were conducted.
Supervisors have struggled for years to find a way to limit pot growing in the county. The gardens have generated actual and perceived problems with home invasion robberies and complaints about the stench of ripening pot.
Supervisors at least twice rescinded earlier ordinances in response to threatened ballot box challenges. Measure N, approved by 52 percent of voters in June, was the result of a challenge to the board’s most recent attempt at an ordinance.
It’s being challenged on the November ballot by measures O and P. Measure O would repeal the current ordinance and create new, less onerous growing restrictions.
Measure P — the Freedom to Garden Human Restoration Act of 2014 — would simply make it legal to grow any plant anywhere.
Supervisor Rob Brown said he cannot discuss the pending litigation, but given the history of marijuana regulation attempts in Lake County, “it’s predictable. “Every time the board does something, there’s a challenge to it,” he said.