Calaveras Auditor Says County Must Pay Back Misspent Pot Funds

Pot growers in Calaveras County could soon be getting a check in the mail.

County Auditor Controller Rebecca Callen stands by her claim that the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office misspent Marijuana Urgency Ordinance funds on items and services not related to the Marijuana Urgency program. Now, she says the county must pay it back in full or risk lawsuits from marijuana cultivators from whom the funds were collected.

Last year, the county took in around $3.7 million from over 700 marijuana cultivators seeking permits in the county. The money is supposed to go only toward expenses related to the ordinance, such as inspections and background checks. But some of that money was spent on items and operations outside those parameters.

One of those expenditures may have been Operation Terminus, the largest illegal grow bust in Calaveras County’s history which was completed earlier this month.  The raid involved the sheriff’s department, the California National Guard, the state water board, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. It netted 35 arrests; 28,650 pot plants; 1,898 tons of processed marijuana and 31 tons of unprocessed marijuana; 12 opium pods; 13 firearms; a piece of body armor, and more than $57,000 in cash.

The environmental violations uncovered by Operation Terminus were also flagrant. Authorities say they issued or are investigating 97 Fish & Wildlife violations, 53 violations relating to water rights or quality, and another 5 Cal Fire land Conversion Cases. But people soon began asking where the money for the operation had come from. That’s when the spending violations were uncovered.

Though enforcement operations against illegal grows may be of great value to the county, funds from Calaveras’ 2016 urgency ordinance are very limited in scope. Illegal grow busts would not be included, says Callen.

“All we are asking is that they use the restricted funding in the manner that it was meant to be used,” Callen said. “Ultimately it would be the county who would be responsible for paying back any money that would have been used with discretionary funds, which hurts the whole county.”

The last opportunity to do so before the submission of the final 2016-17 budget will be Aug. 22, she added.



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