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Mendocino County to turn over medical marijuana records

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Mendocino County officials will turn over to federal prosecutors records from their now-defunct medical marijuana permitting program to comply with new grand jury subpoenas, the county counsel's office announced Wednesday.

It remains unclear exactly what documents are being relinquished to the U.S. Attorney's Office. County Counsel Thomas Parker said the Sept. 25 subpoenas seek "a limited number of unredacted county records."

"The Board of Supervisors directed that the records be provided to the federal grand jury as requested by the subpoenas," he wrote in a news release.

The move follows a year of legal wrangling over efforts by federal prosecutors to get their hands on paperwork from the program, which was scrapped in January 2012 under threat of a federal lawsuit after less than two years in operation.

Mendocino County Supervisor John Pinches said the decision to relent reflects the board's desire to avoid incurring any more legal fees, and a belief that much of the information is available through other means.

"If the feds want to keep coming after us, they can keep coming after us, but we're not going to keep spending money," Pinches said.

The medical marijuana program was adopted in March 2010 to clarify the county's policy under California's voter-approved Compassionate Use Act of 1996, Sheriff Tom Allman has said.

The county ordinance allowed individual growers to cultivate up to 25 plants and collectives to seek waivers for as many as 99 plants. Collectives had to pay $1,500 for special permits, as well as monthly inspection fees of about $500, and $50 per plant for specialized zip ties identifying authorized plants.

Allman said close to $830,000 generated from growers over the life of the program was channeled into his budget to cover the cost of administering it.

But the program was abandoned during a federal crackdown on marijuana cultivation that included raids on California medicinal marijuana clubs and those who grew weed for them.

Last October, several Mendocino County officials received grand jury subpoenas seeking "any and all records" related to the permitting program, raising fears of that applicants' personal information would end up with federal prosecutors.

County supervisors fought back, in large part to protect the identities of more than 90 people who had permits to grow pot for medicinal use, as well as the confidential medical and financial information they provided to participate.

In April, the county reached a settlement with the U.S. Attorney's Office that said county supervisors could edit personal identifying information from records, including names, addresses and parcel numbers.

But Parker said Wednesday the county will release unedited records to federal prosecutors under new, more narrowly drawn subpoenas.

Both he and the sheriff said they were prohibited by federal law from elaborating or identifying what records were being turned over. They also would not discuss whether the records contained any personal information on permit holders.

The news release quoted Mendocino County Board Chairman Dan Hamburg as saying: "The Board desires to protect the privacy of...participants. We are glad to see the current request for documents is much more narrowly drawn than the October 2012 request."

Hamburg has been outspoken about his desire to protect the privacy of participants. He was not available for further comment Wednesday.

It remains unclear who or what federal prosecutors are targeting in their probe.

(You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. )

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