Marijuana money helps Mendocino Sheriff reduce budget cuts

Money seized largely from illegal pot farms cut in half the number of Mendocino County law enforcement jobs slated for elimination Tuesday. And legal marijuana gardens could help ward off future cuts to public safety.

Following a contentious daylong debate, Mendocino County supervisors voted Tuesday to reduce the number of proposed job cuts in the Sheriff's Office budget to seven from 14.

In return, Sheriff Tom Allman said he would spend an additional $257,000 of asset forfeiture funds — money collected primarily from marijuana busts — to offset his department's $600,000 overtime budget. The Sheriff's Office had already committed $200,000 in asset forfeiture funds to the overtime budget.

The moves are aimed at reducing an anticipated $1.3 million deficit in his budget without gutting public safety.

Officials are hoping that someday soon, revenue from legal marijuana also will contribute to public safety.

"Marijuana is here to stay. They want to help. They want to be legitimate," said Sheriff's Sgt. Randy Johnson, who oversees the new county program that issues permits allowing medical marijuana cooperatives to grow up to 99 plants.

It may just be the budget "miracle" county officials have been looking for, said Julia Carrera, the program's independent inspector.

Since the program was implemented in the spring, 18 medical marijuana cooperatives have paid the $1,050 application fee to have their gardens permitted by the Sheriff's Office, Carrera said.

The marijuana farmers pay for her inspection services, which cost $500 each, she said.

The number of permits issued could skyrocket once farmers are convinced that applying for a permit will not lead to a raid on their gardens.

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