| SierraSun.com

Nevada County DA files motion to dismiss hundreds of marijuana convictions

Over the past four decades, Nevada County has not shied away from prosecuting marijuana offenses.

A 2003 article in The Union detailing a cultivation bust offered a typical mindset by law enforcement, after a neighbor reported a Nevada City man for growing 30 plants. The suspect had a doctor’s recommendation for medicinal marijuana, but Nevada County Sheriff’s Narcotics Task Force member Bill Evans noted that was three times the legal limit.

“One person cannot use all of the marijuana he was growing,” Evans told the reporter at the time, adding. “Don’t grow drugs if you don’t want to get arrested.”

But now, hundreds of local convictions for marijuana cultivation and sales are on track to go away. Literally.

On June 24, the Nevada County District Attorney’s Office filed a motion to dismiss nearly 600 prior marijuana convictions, and reduce more than 50 such felonies to misdemeanors. The cases span four decades, beginning in 1973 and running into late 2016, and cover convictions on four charges: possession of concentrated cannabis, cultivation of marijuana for sale, possession of marijuana for sale, and transportation of marijuana for sale.

The two motions stem from the enactment of Proposition 64, passed in November 2016, and expanded by the Legislature in 2018. The new law directed prosecutors to identify past convictions that were potentially eligible for reduction or dismissal, explained Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh.

“The laws have changed significantly, obviously,” Walsh said. “We were directed to go through (the convictions) and go through a process, where we were trying to determine retroactively who was impacted by the changes in the law.”

Walsh said it has been a months-long process of wading through the data sent by the California Department of Justice, with the help of Code for America, a nonprofit group that helped develop a software tool to analyze the data.

“We went through it and made two key determinations,” he said. “One, if there were someone who, if they were prosecuted today, if it would have just been an infraction or not illegal, then we dismissed it entirely. And if it would be a misdemeanor presently, we went through and reduced it to a misdemeanor.”

Of the 597 convictions that were to be dismissed, nearly 40% stemmed from cases filed in the 1980s, with another 30% dating back to the 1990s. Only 14 of the cases are from the 1970s. Nearly half were convictions for possession for sale, while about a quarter were cultivation convictions.

“The political theory was to make the penalty for drug use so severe that the sellers would be driven out of business. It didn’t work,” said local attorney Stephen Munkelt, who’s defended many marijuana cases over the years.

“The Nevada County district attorney is finally doing what the law requires, and allowing for the dismissals and relief from convictions that will benefit so many,” Munkelt said. “This cleanup cannot undo all the harm done by prohibition over the decades, but it is a very significant step in the right direction.”

Providing relief

Walsh acknowledged that for a defendant with other charges, these dismissals would have little impact.

“For some individuals, if you think about the spirit of Prop 64, these are people who were not criminals, they just using marijuana, and that was their only vice, this will provide relief — people who were otherwise law-abiding citizens.”

Walsh said his office gave defendants the benefit of the doubt, asking to dismiss cases if the circumstances were unclear. He added that defendants not on the list can request to have their cases reviewed as well.

According to Walsh, it is now up to a judge to review the motion and make orders to dismiss in each individual case.

“I expect these will all be granted,” he said, adding it could take several months.

“So, say someone has a felony conviction from 1989 for marijuana for sale,” Walsh said. “When the court goes ahead and grants the motion, that person will no longer have a felony conviction on their record — they can honestly report that they no longer have a felony conviction. The case will literally go away.”

Curtis Brenner, convicted in 1990 for cultivating marijuana and possession for sale, said he had considered petitioning the court to have his record expunged.

Brenner noted he had not had any issues since then, running a successful business locally for decades and buying his own house, adding, “I have no other record except for that.”

But Brenner, who is moving out of the country, said it might make some visa requirements a little easier to negotiate.

“I think it was a crock, what I had to go through,” he said.

In Brenner’s view, marijuana was criminalized unnecessarily, when hemp can be used to manufacture any number of useful products.

“Think about what our world would be like if it had never been illegal,” he said.

For Brian Scott, owner of T-5 Boxing, his 2012 conviction set him on a better path.

“I am thankful I did get caught,” he said, citing his renewed belief in God. “This allowed me to change my life. … I hit my knees and I had no other choice but to look up. That’s what really changed me. It changed me into the man I am today, a positive role model giving back to the community.”

Scott said he did not allow his conviction to keep him from achieving his goals, but acknowledged it held him back in the past from exploring options like joining the probation department.

“I know it will feel good, to have it off (my record),” he said. “It will be a sense of relief as far as cleaning up some of the wreckage from my past. .. I do feel like it will be a definite positive.”

That’s the whole point of the dismissals, Walsh said: to retroactively give people the benefit of the change in the law.

“For some people, this has held them back,” he said. “This takes the whole thing away like it never happened. This is a good thing for people who deserve that relief.”

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.

Hike for Hope goes virtual for 2020

The Tahoe-Truckee Hike for Hope, journey of remembrance and a hike that unites a community, offers an opportunity to acknowledge the ways in which suicide and mental illness have affected lives in the community.

While participants may not be able to come together physically, the Tahoe-Truckee Hike for Hope will be going virtual on June 28. The event begins at 10 a.m. with a welcome ceremony, followed by a resource fair and virtual hike speakers.

Registration is still open to virtual walkers at AFSP.org/tahoetruckee. For more information on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and provide support and/or donations for follow the Instagram page @tahoehikeforhope and Facebook page facebook.com/tahoehikeforhope. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

Source: Tahoe-Truckee Hike for Hope

Tahoe Honey Company receives use permit for cannabis delivery in Truckee

Truckee Planning Commission gave its OK for another cannabis delivery service to begin operations, unanimously approving of a use permit for Tahoe Honey Company Cannabis Delivery Services.

“Our company took part in the Town of Truckee’s extensive public forums that were held regarding the creation and adoption of the current cannabis ordinance,” said Tahoe Honey Company Owner Charles Willett at Tuesday’s meeting. “We take great pride in being a small, locally owned business that has the ability to foster positive growth for our community and positive impacts for those around us.”

Tahoe Honey Company was established in 2015 and shut down in January 2019 due to the state changing regulations and laws surrounding cannabis delivery. The business, which also received endorsement for a use permit from Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, will operate a 1,530-square-foot medicinal and recreational cannabis delivery service at 10939 Industrial Way.

The site borders the Pine Forest common area, industrial buildings, and a contractors yard. Other tenants on the site include Stewart’s Marine Service, Doctor’s Office for Pets, Tahoe Supply, and three residential units.

The decision by the Planning Commission marks the fourth time it has approved of a use permit for cannabis delivery service since the town adopted regulations in 2018. Of those, Winter Greens and Tahoe Harvest Cannabis Delivery Service, which operates across the street from Tahoe Honey at 10970 Industrial Way, are currently operating.

Tahoe Herbal Care, which attempted to operate out of a suite in Donner Lake Village, was approved of by the Planning Commission in December 2018, and later appealed. The owners then withdrew their application due to regulations within the homeowners association.

Tahoe Honey Company will deliver from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, during summer, and from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week, during winter. The business, according to Willett, will start off with one employee with plans to hire additional staff in the future. Willett also anticipates the company will start by making roughly three to six vehicle trips for delivery per day.

Retail sales of marijuana will not be allowed on site. Truckee also requires compliance with California’s licensing framework along with state and local licenses being secured before the operator is allowed to open.

For more information on Tahoe Honey Company, visit www.tahoehoneycompany.com.

Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at jscacco@sierrasun.com or 530-550-2643.

Cannabis businesses still coming out of the shadows

Though Truckee has allowed commercial cannabis delivery for a year now with no cap on the number of permits issued, there’s only one operating delivery service fully permitted by the town and the state.

While the town has seemingly strict regulations, working with town staff to obtain a use permit was a relatively smooth process, according to Todd Winter, owner of Winter Greens Delivery.

“This is a brand new industry,” said Winter. “It’s always going to seem harsh at the very beginning.”

Winter has also worked as an attorney representing clients in the cannabis industry for the past 10 years.

“In dealing with municipalities all over the state, the Town of Truckee was amazingly receptive in the process,” he said. “The business license process was shorter than anywhere else we’ve delt with for a client.”

In order to operate legally, businesses must obtain a use permit from both their local municipality and the state. As a veteran of the industry, Winter said licensing his delivery business may have been a smoother process because he was familiar with the regulations.

“I do permits and licenses and everything related to cannabis businesses all over the state of California with my team,” said Winter. “It’s much easier for me than other delivery businesses in town that were faced with challenges that I didn’t have because I have this expertise.”

Truckee’s regulations allow businesses to only deliver to a private physical addresses. However each delivery service must have a fixed location to run operations, at which direct sales cannot take place. The businesses cannot exceed 3,000 square feet or have a retail storefront. They must maintain at least 600 feet of distance from schools, daycares and youth centers and will be limited to areas zoned for manufacturing, downtown manufacturing, service commercial and general commercial. Businesses in the general commercial zone may not be located on the ground floor.

Starting a legal cannabis business takes more money and resources than most other businesses, Winter said.

“It’s expensive. You have to find property. You have to talk to landlords that will see eye-to-eye with you and be OK with cannabis in their space.”

In December the Truckee Planning Commission granted Tahoe Herbal Care a use permit, a delivery service attempting to operate out of a second-story suite in Donner Lake Village. The planning commission’s decision was appealed, however, and the owners later withdrew their application due to regulations within the home owners association, according to Jenna Gatto, Truckee planning manager.

“A lot of landowners don’t want cannabis in their space,” said Winter.

As cannabis is still federally illegal, businesses face another hurdle with federal regulations banning them from using bank services.

“It makes it very difficult for cannabis companies to handle simple things like payroll or paying bills,” said Winter. “Fortunately a lot of the industry still works on a cash basis.”

Ultimately Winter said there are no drawbacks to being a legalized cannabis business “because we’re finally coming out of the shadows now.”

Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at hjones@sierrasun.com or 503-550-2652.

City of South Lake Tahoe receives 21 applications for cannabis businesses

The city of South Lake Tahoe has received 21 applications for adult-use cannabis businesses.

Of those, 18 were for retail licenses, one was for cultivation and two were for microbusiness licenses — a special type of license that allows for multiple uses.

Under an ordinance adopted earlier this year, the city can issue two microbusiness licenses, two cultivation licenses and two retail licenses.

However, the city could issue up to two additional retail licenses if neither of the microbusiness applicants pursue a retail use. The city’s ordinance assumes that there will be a maximum number of four retail cannabis locations in the city.

The application period ran from March 11 through April 5.

One aspect that isn’t known is the identity of the applicants. The Tribune requested copies of each application, but the city is withholding the names of the applicants to ensure a “blind” screening process. Legal precedent allows the names to be withheld until the screening process is complete, according to the city.

The screening period is expected to commence when the city’s evaluation committee meets on April 30 to score the applications.

When it approved the cannabis ordinance City Council also adopted procedures for evaluating applications.

The criteria sores applicants based on elements such as voluntary revenue sharing, local preference and more.

The city hopes to complete the process by late May.

Ryan Hoffman is a reporter with the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun.

Recreational cannabis sales now underway in South Lake Tahoe

History was made at Tahoe Wellness Cooperative just after 4:20 p.m. Thursday.

That’s when the first legal — extra emphasis on legal — adult-use cannabis sale occurred in the city of South Lake Tahoe.

Mayor Brooke Laine made the purchase at Tahoe Wellness, the long established cannabis center that up until today was a medical dispensary.

Cody Bass, Tahoe Wellness owner and fellow member of South Lake Tahoe City Council, told the Tribune that the state officially cleared Tahoe Wellness for adult-use, the term used for non-medicinal uses, Thursday afternoon.

The first sale consisted of a cannabis infused chocolate bar and cannabis infused blueberry and espresso bean Terra bites. Both products are manufactured by Kiva Confections.

Under an ordinance adopted earlier this year, Tahoe Wellness can continue with all its current operations for adult-use for the next three years.

A final remaining hurdle was cleared earlier this month when Tahoe Wellness and the city reached an agreement to settle a two-year-old lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the city announced earlier this week that it received 21 applications for adult-use cannabis businesses during the application period that ended April 5.

The city hopes to complete the application screening process by late May.

Ryan Hoffman is a reporter with the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun.

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Ballot 2 Didn’t End the Program

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State Application Fee:

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Nevada County staff now prepped to write draft marijuana ordinance

Nevada County supervisors on Tuesday, Feb. 13, opposed allowing commercial recreational marijuana grows, instead opting for medicinal commercial cultivation in specific zones that meet acreage requirements.

Supervisors also agreed to allow up to six plants grown outdoors for personal use in certain zones, though no outdoor grows could occur in single- and multi-family areas.

The supervisors’ decisions about cannabis grows are the latest step in their efforts to craft a new grow ordinance.

County staff will now write that ordinance based off Tuesday’s discussion, possibly returning in six weeks to the supervisors with their results, said Mali Dyck, interim deputy CEO.

“I’m not sure what that product is,” Dyck said of what staff will have at that point.

The grow requirements discussed Tuesday could change over time. More public input, including a tentative March 6 meeting, is expected before supervisors vote on the new ordinance — a set of new rules the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance wants in effect by May 1.

“Are we going to allow commercial grows?” Scofield said, saying that question is what most people ask. “And if we allow commercial grows, where are they going to be?”

Supervisors quickly decided they would allow medical commercial grows only, though they didn’t rule out commercial recreational grows in the future. They chose general agriculture, agricultural exclusive and forest zones that meet acreage requirements as suitable sites for grows.

Residential agriculture zones, previously discussed as a possible spot for commercial activity, aren’t included.

Any cultivation must occur on at least two acres — a size that would increase depending on the size of the grow, which would be limited at 10,000 square feet.

Supervisors agreed to a 100-foot setback for commercial grows, and 1,000-foot setback from schools.

Tackling outdoor personal grows, supervisors told staff to examine a maximum of six plants outdoors on exclusive agriculture, general agriculture, forest and timberland preserve zones. Up to six outdoor plants could grow on residential agriculture estate and residential agriculture rural zones, if parcels are at least five acres.

State law allows property owners to grow up to six plants indoors.

Pivoting toward whether to allow other types of licenses, like manufacturing or distribution, supervisors heard from CEO Rick Haffey. The county executive officer advised supervisors to focus on creating a cultivation ordinance first, returning to other aspects of a new cannabis ordinance once grow rules are set.

Supervisors then shied away from continued discussion about other licenses, but told staff to offer parameters for a transition period — a time period in which growers could come into compliance without penalty.

The board also heard from several speakers. Attendees filled the board chambers, leaving only standing room at the back of the large area.

Diana Gamzon, executive director of the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, told supervisors she’d like the new ordinance in effect by May 1.

“We have an opportunity here to be a leader for California cannabis regulations,” she said.

Tom Head, who lives in South County, said the smell of marijuana has become unbearable at his home. He dismissed one suggestion of a 150-foot setback, calling it inefficient, and asked supervisors to clearly designate employees the public can contact when they have a cannabis-related issue.

Nevada officials approve medical, recreational pot laws

The Tax Commission on Tuesday, Jan. 16, voted unanimously to approve the regulations that will govern both the medical and recreational marijuana industry in Nevada.

The vote came after more than three hours of a final hearing on the regulations that frankly resemble a small phone book. They span more than 250 pages and contain 246 Sections detailing the rules.

Taxation Director Deonne Contine told the commission there have been some 60 meetings over the past year and more than eight workshops.

The rules not only lay out full licensing procedures for cultivators, producers, testing labs and dispensaries but penalties for violating any of them. They get down into labeling requirements for pot products as well as safe food handling requirements for pot producers.

Extensive rules mandate all pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals used at every stage from the grower through the retailer be disclosed. They detail inventory controls, security and confidentiality for customers, cardholders and patients.

Some of the testimony on the final day attempted to open the doors wider for companies wanting to transport marijuana from retailers to customers and seeking more dispensary licenses in certain areas.

But those issues are all contained in the Question 2 language voters approved in November 2016. Under Nevada’s Constitution, the ballot language can’t be amended for three years after voter approval so those issues are etched in stone for another two years.

The regulations now go to the Legislative Commission for final approval.

Nevada County citizen marijuana group gives final thoughts to supervisors

Members of Nevada County’s marijuana citizen’s group on Tuesday alternatively praised or attacked the seven-month process that resulted in the creation of recommendations for a new cannabis grow ordinance.

Those recommendations — including details on zoning, parcel size and license types — were presented for the first time before the Board of Supervisors. The board on Tuesday took no action on the recommendations, instead hearing feedback from the panelists that met 10 times to craft them.

Supervisors will hear more information from county staff at their annual workshop before providing input on Feb. 13 to county counsel, who will write the draft ordinance.

No timeline exists for passage of the new rules.

 “Patients deserve safe and affordable access to this medicine. I think there’s a lot of work ahead of us.”

— Panelist Rich Johansen

Supervisors heard from members of the citizen’s panel, some of them questioning the process implemented by MIG, Inc., the county’s cannabis consultant.

“I feel that the process was flawed and led to a lot of indecisive frustration,” panelist Michael Mastrodonato said. “I believe the recommendations delivered to you today comes from MIG, not the 16-member CAG.”

MIG used a series of cannabis-related questions voted upon by panelists to form the recommendations. Mastrodonato said those questions allowed for no back-and-forth conversation between group members.

Don Bessee, another panelist and executive director of the Northern California chapter of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said the questions posed to the citizen’s group lacked specifics about personal or medicinal grows.

“It seems that there was a predetermined course here,” Bessee said.

Panelist Debra Weistar called the process to make the recommendations imperfect. Forrest Hurd, citizen’s group member and medicinal cannabis advocate, agreed. However, he added that if everyone is somewhat unhappy when a process has ended, it likely worked.

A majority of panelists said much more work is needed.

“Patients deserve safe and affordable access to this medicine,” panelist Rich Johansen said. “I think there’s a lot of work ahead of us.”

Panelist Tom Cross again suggested a blue ribbon commission — a smaller group that would continue to work with the county toward a new ordinance — as well as a pilot program for a few growers.

Supervisor Hank Weston questioned if a smaller group would fall under the state’s Brown Act, which requires certain governmental bodies to have open meetings. County Counsel Alison Barratt-Green told Weston that if county staff selects a technical team, the Brown Act wouldn’t apply.

Supervisor Heidi Hall supported a smaller group, though Supervisor Richard Anderson wondered about that panel’s purpose.

No decision was made Tuesday about the panel.

Saying the recommendation process was about mitigating cannabis’ issues, Anderson said he wants guidance on how to control those impacts.

“Twenty-five plants indoors will have odor impacts on residents,” he added.