City to increase penalties for unlawful cannabis operations

January 6, 2019

NEEDLES — The city is adamant about cannabis growers obeying the rules and will seek to increase penalties for not doing so in future sessions of the Needles City Council.

The majority of operators in the city’s newest industry are licensed, inspected, regulated and taxed under various provisions of city, county and/or state law. But there have been a couple of instances where operators have chosen to ignore all that and just set up shop. The city’s code enforcement department and the Colorado River Station of the San Bernardino County Sheriff Department have dealt with those promptly and, apparently effectively but there’s only so much the city can do by way of deterrence under criminal enforcement actions as defined by the state.

“Under current law one way to prosecute is through criminal action,” said John Pinkney, the city’s attorney, addressing the Dec. 11 meeting of Needles City Council. “That’s capped at a $1,000 fine per day and/or six months in county jail as set by state law.”

The price tag on infractions, he continued, is set at $250 per violation per day.

Mayor Jeff Williams, at that time vice-mayor, asked council to consider ways to increase deterrence in an industry that operates in millions of dollars. What they’re considering are administrative penalties, especially those regarding nuisance and public health and safety provisions; and penalties assessed on a per-plant basis above the legal limit of six.

As Pinkney pointed out a fine of $500 per plant for someone with 2,000 plants above the limit would be a million dollars: enough to gain the attention of any scofflaws that might figure the current risks are vastly outweighed by the potential rewards.

There are additional opportunities for imposing penalties in tiers, according to how serious the violation might be or the risk it might pose to health, safety, comfort or the general welfare of the public.

Council voted unanimously to direct the city attorney to draft an ordinance increasing fees for such violations. Licensed growers currently operating within the city voiced approval of that action.

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