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Ukiah tribe downsizes plans for marijuana farm

A Ukiah tribe has downsized its plans for a medical marijuana farm, at least for now, as it continues to explore what will and won’t be tolerated by law enforcement officials.

The Pinoleville Pomo Nation’s initial plan, backed by a Kansas investment company that funds tribal economic projects like casinos and now marijuana operations, called for a $10 million pot-growing operation in multiple greenhouses spanning some 110,000 square feet on the tribe’s rancheria just north of Ukiah.

Similar projects are being proposed throughout the nation as tribes explore new ways to generate income. The projects also allow tribes to gain a foothold in an explosive growth industry that is expected to further expand as more states legalize the recreational use of cannabis. A measure to legalize recreational pot is widely expected to go before California voters next year.

As construction on the Ukiah venture began this week in clear view of cars driving down Highway 101, it was clear that Pinoleville’s project is starting out a bit smaller than initially planned. Mike Canales, who heads the tribe’s business board, said the tribe is sticking close to the county’s 25-plant-per-parcel limit for now.

“We’re just staying within the law,” he said Friday.

To do that, the tribe - which has created a nonprofit organization to run the operation - will be growing up to 25 plants each on separate parcels throughout the 99-acre rancheria. It also potentially could cultivate marijuana on another 100 acres it owns near a residential subdivision but has promised the residents of the neighborhood it will not, Canales has said.

The tribe’s initial plan apparently has been stymied by conflicting opinions about what the law allows.

Canales has met with Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman, but they’ve failed to reach agreement on what is acceptable and what is not, Canales said.

The land where a garden currently is being constructed is not held in federal trust - which typically is exempt from local regulations - and the sheriff contends the tribe is limited to the same 25-plants-per-parcel maximum as everyone else in the county.

Canales contends that, as a sovereign nation, the tribe is not subject to the county’s regulations and said the tribe may test the limits.

“Sometimes you need to disagree to get clarification,” he said.

Despite the disagreement, Canales described his relationship with Allman as “cordial.” But he’s also said the tribe is ready to litigate the issue if need be.

Meanwhile, an estimated 100 baglike containers used to cultivate pot plants have cropped up on two adjacent parcels on the northeast corner of the rancheria along Highway 101.

In addition to growing cannabis, the 250-member tribe plans to build a medical marijuana dispensary that will focus on filling prescriptions for pot-based pills and edibles, Canales said.

“We’re going to be making pharmaceuticals,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MendoReporter.

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