Construction appears to start on pot farm north of Ukiah
Construction apparently is underway for a medical marijuana farm on tribal land just north of Ukiah.
Rows of huge bag-like containers typically used to cultivate pot plants above ground, pallets of potting soil, large water storage tanks and solar panels have cropped up on the northeast corner of the Pinoleville Pomo Nation’s rancheria, adjacent to Highway 101.
The area - bordered by the highway, a vineyard and rancheria housing - has been leveled by earth-moving machines and partially surrounded by a chain link fence. But there’s no sign yet of the greenhouse that was originally proposed.
Representatives of the 250-member Pinoleville tribe and its Kansas-based partners this week declined to comment on the work now underway but said they plan to release information about their pot-production plans within a week.
“At this time, I don’t have any comment,” said Barry Brautman, president of FoxBarry Farms, the financial backer for what originally was to be a 2.5-acre medical cannabis cultivation operation on the 99-acre rancheria. FoxBarry also invests in and manages tribal casinos.
As originally planned, FoxBarry would build a ?$10 million greenhouse operation where it would produce thousands of plants year round with the help of Colorado-based United Cannabis, Brautman said in a January interview.
It was expected to become the first large-scale, tribal-sanctioned cannabis-growing operation in the country. But not for long. FoxBarry also plans at least two others elsewhere in California, Brautman said in January. He would not reveal where.
The work currently underway appears to be smaller than initially planned and there are no signs yet of the planned 110,000-square-foot greenhouse.
It also comes months later than originally scheduled, possibly due to doubts raised about whether it’s legal.
Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman has said the legality of such a large-scale proposal was questionable, even though the tribe is considered a sovereign nation.
In response to interview requests about the project on Wednesday, Allman issued a written statement, revealing that he’d met with a tribal representative earlier in the day.
“Due to conflicting interpretations of state and local marijuana laws/ordinances relating to Tribal lands, no agreement was reached as to the legal operation of the marijuana cultivation,” the release states.
“It is the intent of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office to fairly and equally enforce the law throughout Mendocino County. If a violation of state or local law is observed in Mendocino County, the appropriate law enforcement action will be taken,” he wrote, adding that he has the authority to enforce criminal laws on Indian lands.
Brautman has said he believes the tribes do have the authority to run operations like his on land held in trust by the federal government. It will be a nonprofit and its marijuana will be distributed only to legitimate dispensaries, he said. Allman said the tribe also plans to build a dispensary on the rancheria.
In a memorandum produced at the request of tribes seeking clarification on the marijuana issue, the U.S. Department of Justice has essentially said it’s up to tribes, as sovereign nations, to decide whether marijuana is legal or not on their lands.
But the memorandum also states there’s nothing preventing U.S. authorities from enforcing federal law in “Indian Country.”
In recent years, federal agencies have cracked down on large-scale pot production operations in the Bay Area and elsewhere. The agency has not taken a public stand on the Pinoleville tribe’s plans.
You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @MendoReporter