The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office raided a medical marijuana growing operation on Indian land just north of Ukiah on Tuesday, disrupting a high-profile project that had garnered national attention and was hailed by tribal leaders as a new way to generate jobs and revenue for cash-strapped tribes.
Deputies eradicated some 400 pot plants from an outdoor location. At another location, they began dismantling a “highly sophisticated” chemical laboratory where honey oil — a sticky, concentrated pot product used to make edible medicine— was being manufactured under the auspices of the Pinoleville Pomo Nation, said Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Van Patten. More than 100 pounds of trimmed and drying marijuana also was found inside the laboratory building, a former car dealership on North State Street.
Tribal representatives who helped launch what is widely believed to be the first large-scale, tribal-operated medical pot operation in the state had contended they had a right to grow marijuana on the tribe’s 99-acre rancheria for the benefit of the estimated 250-member tribe.
They decried Tuesday’s raids, which were accompanied by court-issued warrants, on what they claim are legal operations.
“I think what they’re doing is not right,” said Nori Baldridge, the tribe’s director of economic development. “This is sovereign land and this is a sovereign nation,” she said.
“We were shocked,” said Mike Canales, president of the tribe’s business board. He said he’s been in frequent contact with Sheriff Tom Allman and expected to be notified before there was any kind of raid. He also contends the sheriff does not have authority over the tribe and said he will be asking the county grand jury to investigate the issue.
Neither he nor Baldridge is a member of the tribe, but the two have been instrumental in creating the marijuana operation. Tribal Chairwoman Leona Williams could not immediately be reached for comment.
Sheriff’s officials have contended since the project was announced earlier this year that the tribe would be required to comply with medical marijuana laws. Allman earlier said that includes following the county’s limit of 25 pot plants per parcel limit. Van Patten said the department has since determined that limit doesn’t apply to the tribe but cited the operation’s “sheer size” as a reason for the raid.
Van Patten said the growing operation was also targeted because its aim was to generate financial gain, which is not allowed under state marijuana laws. He noted that tribal members have made public statements about their goal of generating income.
“In no shape or form is this even close to being legal,” Van Patten said Tuesday as he stood outside of the large, low-slung building that housed the laboratory. The tribe leases the property from Kandy Investments LLC in Rohnert Park.
Van Patten said some tribal members opposed to the pot operation had complained about its size and the way it was run.
“This is criminal activity,” said a man watching the police raids unfold on Tuesday. He did not want to be named.
The operation may be larger than is legal, but it is just a shadow of the grand proposal initially announced in January. Plans for the operation were first revealed after a publicly traded Colorado-based marijuana-development and growing corporation, United Cannabis, filed federal securities documents indicating it was partnering with a Kansas City-based investment company that funds gaming casinos and other tribal endeavors. Their plan included cultivating marijuana on tribal lands, which are free of some government regulations. Pinoleville was named as one of the target tribes.