When Winters farmer Ravi Tumber got a green light from Yolo County Agriculture Commissioner John Young personally to grow medical cannabis rather than tomatoes in the hydroponic structures on his property just off Highway 128 in the hills just west of town, he thought he was good to go. He was told by county staff that he’d followed all the rules and gotten all the necessary permits, and so he proceeded to lease a greenhouse and an outdoor plot to a Sacramento grower connected to a legal medical marijuana cooperative, who also had the necessary legal paperwork in place.
Tumber and the grower were wrong — or so said the Trident task force, located in Placer County, which caught wind of Tumber’s operation from a neighbor who didn’t approve of what was taking place there. Trident presented an affidavit to Yolo County Judge David Reed, who approved a warrant to raid the property.
And raid they did.
On Sept. 14, Trident sent a small army of vehicles to Tumber’s property, and an estimated 30-40 armed officers stormed the place, holding two renters on the property who had nothing to do with the growing operation face down on the ground at gunpoint. According to Tumber, before all this transpired, the officers cut the wires on all of his security recorder/cameras.
While the raid at the growing site was taking place, another team of officers simultaneously arrived at Tumber’s Solano County residence, kicked in the door and went through his personal files and cell phone.
“I told them look at whatever you want — I have nothing to hide,” says Tumber, emphasizing that he was completely cooperative with the officers.
Finding nothing of interest in Tumber’s home, the officers confiscated all of the outdoor plants being grown by Tumber’s lessee at the farm site in Yolo County. After all this commotion, no arrests were made.
According to Brandon Olivera, task force commander with Trident, the agency was aware that the plants being grown were intended for medical use, which is legal in Yolo County, and that Tumber and his lessee had already completed the necessary county paperwork to grow here. However, Olivera said, they were lacking a particular state license.
When asked if Trident could not simply have issued Tumber a warning to complete the missing paperwork, he replied, “We had a warrant.”
Dennis Chambers, Chief Deputy Agriculture Commissioner for Yolo County, confirms that Tumber did, in fact, have all the documentation required by the county to operate a medical cannabis growing operation, including necessary water permits and a business license, and says he does not know which state license Olivera is referring to.
Chambers was alerted to the raid as it was taking place and called Trident, and spoke with one of the officers on site, informing him that Tumber’s operation was legal and licensed by Yolo County. The officer laughed and replied, “There’s a whole lot of plants here” and hung up on him.
Chambers called back again, and spoke with another officer, who informed him that “the plants are down,” and it was too late to do anything about it. He adds that the county counsel or agriculture office received “no notification whatsoever” about the planned raid. Since that time, he says that county officials and the DA’s office are aware of the situation, but have not come to any conclusions yet.
How and why did an agency from another county cross into a county where medical cannabis cultivation is legal and start raiding property? That’s what Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor would like to know.
Noting that Yolo County adopted an interim ordinance to permit the cultivation of medical marijuana in unincorporated areas of Yolo County in March 2016, Saylor, who represents the Winters area, notes that the raid was “a highly coordinated operation involving simultaneous invasions of a farm west of Winters and three private homes.”
“The accounts I have heard are that during the course of the raids, the people at the farm and homes told the officers that they had cultivation permits issued by Yolo County,” says Saylor. “A member of the Yolo County Agriculture Department called the officers on scene to inform them that cultivation at the site was permitted. That was disregarded. Doors were bashed in, guns were drawn in at least one location, (farm) workers were restrained by zip-tie restraints.”
Saylor says that accounts of the incident reveal that at least one member of the Yolo County drug enforcement team, YONET, was on the scene, but this was not a Yolo County operation.
“While a warrant was requested and provided by a Yolo judge, I am concerned that officials from another county have conducted this operation within Yolo County and that they disregarded the legal permits issued by Yolo County. To date, no specific legal charges have been brought against anyone and we are told that the investigation is ongoing. Nevertheless, the crop has been destroyed.
“It seems to me that the destruction of a legally permitted crop without consideration of the legal permit in place for medical cultivation presents a potential violation of due process rights. This action has resulted in loss of property, damage to personal residences and farming implements, and trauma to persons.
“While the raid appears to have been conducted under color of legal authority, I think we must question the legitimacy of this operation as we work to reduce illegal cultivation through regulations and permitting.”
Yolo County DA responds
Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig says the Attorney General is aware that medical cannabis cultivation is happening throughout the state, and says there are specific rules in place that were established in coordination with Proposition 215, also known as The Compassionate Use Act of 1996.
Proposition 215 was enacted to “ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where that medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician who has determined that the person’s health would benefit from the use of marijuana,” and to “ensure that patients and their primary caregivers who obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes upon the recommendation of a physician are not subject to criminal prosecution or sanction.”
In the State of California Guidelines regarding medical marijuana use, it is noted that the federal government does not recognize marijuana as having any acceptable medical use and still considers the manufacture, possession and distribution of marijuana to be a “federal criminal offense.” The document states, “The incongruity between federal and state law has given rise to understandable confusion, but no legal conflict exists merely because state law and federal law treat marijuana differently… California did not ‘legalize’ medical marijuana, but instead exercised the state’s reserved powers to not punish certain marijuana offenses under state law when a physician has recommended its use to treat a serious medical condition.”
The document further states, “In light of California’s decision to remove the use and cultivation of physician-recommended marijuana from the scope of the state’s drug laws, this Office recommends that state and local law enforcement officers not arrest individuals or seize marijuana under federal law when the officer determines from the facts available that the cultivation, possession, or transportation is permitted under California’s medical marijuana laws.”
All well and good, unless those law enforcement officers have a warrant, as did Trident, which is federally funded.
Reisig acknowledges that the conflicts between federal, state and local laws are frustrating for law enforcement as well as the public.
“It’s kind of a mess right now,” he says, but notes that medical marijuana cultivation still isn’t allowed on the open commercial market. Crops must be intended for legal cooperatives, collectives or dispensaries, and destined for medical use only, and growers cannot grow more plants than those cooperatives, collectives or dispensaries can use.
“Before you put a seed in the ground, you have to have a connection to a lawful cooperative or collective established,” Reisig says. “If you’re not in compliance with that law, you are committing a crime. You can’t grow weed for profit.”
Although he admits that the current growing laws are “a quagmire,” he states, “Ignorance of the law is no defense.”
“There’s a lot of confusion at a lot of different levels. Until the law changes, it’s going to continue to be a mess.”
Reisig points to the Attorney General to clear up the cultivation laws, and says that until that happens, law enforcement can only enforce the existing laws.
As for what appears to be overkill in the Winters raid, Reisig points out that before the days of legalized medical marijuana cultivation, law enforcement basically had one template for marijuana cultivation and task force raids, and it involved criminals, remote illegal grow sites, and the potential for violence, as well as harm to officers. Therefore, law enforcement conducts raids with large task forces and storms in by surprise.
“That’s what they did in this situation,” says Reisig, noting that the task force, having been granted the warrant by a judge, had “probable cause that a felony was committed on the property.”
When asked about the Trident commander’s statement to the Express that he was aware that the Winters grow was intended for medical use, Reisig got a different angle — Trident claimed the grow was not for medical use and was not in compliance with the medical marijuana cultivation laws.
Reisig’s office received Trident’s report on the raid in the first week of November, however, it will be some time before Reisig is able to comment.
“We are now starting our review process to determine if there is sufficient evidence of any crime beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Reisig on Nov. 3. “This may take us many weeks.”
When asked about the Proposition 215 laws and regulations, Tumber stated that his operation was in compliance.
State, federal representatives respond
Then-Assemblyman Bill Dodd, who represented the Fourth Assembly District in which Winters is located (he was sworn in as a state senator on Monday, Dec. 5), noted that it didn’t appear that growers who are getting permitted by Yolo County to cultivate medical marijuana are being given all the information they need at the county level. He suggested a checklist be given to growers that includes not only the county regulations, but also the state regulations as well as any pertinent environmental and land use restrictions.
“There needs to be more transparency at the state and local level,” said Dodd.
Dodd said that non-local agencies seeking to perform raids in another county should notify local authorities before proceeding. As for the Sept. 14 raid in Winters, Dodd characterized the incident as “harassment.”
“We’re all in this together,” said Dodd, regarding how law enforcement should conduct itself between jurisdictions, and said the Winters raid seemed like a case of “Ready, fire, aim.”
Like Reisig, Dodd says the laws regarding medical marijuana cultivation must be addressed at the statewide level, beginning at the Attorney General’s office.
“The Attorney General needs to be made aware of this,” he said, of the incident in Winters, which surely won’t be the only such situation to transpire in the midst of confusion about marijuana cultivation laws.
On Oct. 13, Congressman John Garamendi came to the Express office and heard Tumber’s story directly from the man himself. Tumber recounted the events of the Sept. 14 raid, and emphasized the trauma of being treated like a criminal when he believed he’d been following the rules and complying with the law. He additionally pointed out that establishing a medical marijuana cultivation site is costly.
While expressing sympathy for Tumber’s plight, Garamendi noted that current federal law classifies marijuana in the same category as heroin or LSD, and although changes to the opiate laws has been discussed at the Congressional level, “it hasn’t gone anywhere.” Noting that “legal” growing for medical purposes has “come into play,” he added that moves to update the federal laws are “not active.”
But, he adds, that may change. There is a need for “a very rapid and significant change” in federal marijuana laws, particularly as state after state marches forward to legalize not only medical but recreational marijuana. The passage of recreational laws, he says, “is going to force change in all of this.” But, he notes, “don’t expect it to be easily accomplished.”
“I predict it will be a state issue to work out for some time to come,” said Garamendi.
As for growers currently trying to navigate the tangle of local, state and federal laws, as well as dealing with law enforcement trying to enforce those laws, Garamendi’s advice to them was “be careful for awhile.”
“Stand by,” Garamendi said to Tumber. “It’s a good time to be patient.”
Tumber expresses frustration surrounding his entire clash with law enforcement because his initial intention when venturing into leasing property for growing medical cannabis was to provide pain relieving alternatives to people suffering from a variety of conditions proven to be alleviated by using medical cannabis, including chemotherapy, AIDS, Parkinson’s Disease, fibromyalgia and chronic pain.
Tumber says his hope was to provide “an alternative to not taking prescription pain medications which are addicting, and having a normal functional life,” which is something he hopes will be accomplished globally.” Following the Trident raid, however, Tumber says “everything’s put on hold until we have clarification of a direction.”
“I thought I was doing it the right way,” summarizes Tumber, adding that lack of clarity on cannabis cultivation needs to be defined nationwide, from the federal level all the way down to the local level.
Reprinted with permission from the Winters Express.