By Steve Elliott of Toke of the Town
Yes, marijuana is a plant you grow from the ground. No, it's not an agricultural crop. Confused yet?
In what is believed to be the first ruling of its kind in the state, a judge in California has ruled that a marijuana collective can't operate on land zoned for agriculture, reports Lewis Griswold of the Fresno Bee.
In his ruling last week, Tulare County Superior Court Judge Paul Vortmann dismissed a property owner's argument that a medical marijuana collective's cultivation of marijuana is legal because it is in an agricultural zone.
"In this state, marijuana has never been classified as a crop or horticultural product," Judge Vortmann wrote in his ruling. Marijuana is a controlled substance, the judge said.
"The court finds as a matter of law that growing marijuana ... is not an agricultural use of property," the judge wrote.
It's the first time a court has addressed whether medical marijuana might be an agricultural crop, according to Tulare County Counsel Kathleen Bales-Lange, whose office sued a property owner and collective on behalf of the Board of Supervisors.
Marijuana plants are "agricultural in nature" because they grow like any other crop, according to lawyer Brandon Ormonde of Tulare, who represented the property owner. He acknowledged that medical marijuana has never been legally acknowledged as an "agricultural plant."
"If it's not a crop, I don't know what it is," said Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML, reports the Associated Press.
The case involved the Foothill Growers Association medical marijuana collective, which rented a building south of Ivanhoe in an agricultural zone. The collective grew plants inside the building and operated a dispensary.
Tulare County sued the collective and the property owner last year, arguing that marijuana dispensaries are only allowed in specified commercial and manufacturing zones.
The group has until Friday to stop using the building. Hanford attorney Bill Romaine, who represents Foothill Growers Association, said on Thursday that he believed the cooperative had negotiated a new site to use in unincorporated Tulare County, reports David Castellon at the Visalia Times-Delta.
Five years ago, an estimate that marijuana was the top cash crop in the United States at $35.8 billion a year made headlines nationwide. The crop's value is more than corn and wheat combined, according to legalization advocate Jon Gettman, who prepared the 2006 report.
But never mind all that. Marijuana is not recognized by the California Department of Food and Agriculture as an "agricultural commodity." (Maybe it's time they catch up to reality.)
No agricultural commissioner in the state -- not even in Mendocino and Humboldt counties -- lists cannabis in is annual crop reports.
"We don't regulate or track marijuana at all and regard that as a law enforcement issue," said Steve Lyle, speaking for the state agriculture agency.
That could all change, though, under a proposed ballot initiative that plans a farming future for marijuana. Among other things, it proposes to apply "existing agricultural taxes and regulations to marijuana" and would prohibit zoning restrictions on cannabis cultivation.
It was recently approved by the Secretary of State's office for signature gathering in an attempt to get it on the 2012 ballot.
Article From Toke of the Town and republished with special permission.