Since 1985, Santa Barbara County prosecutor Lee Carter estimates he’s filed criminal charges against “hundreds” of people for crimes involving marijuana. “Many hundreds,” he said. Last Friday, Carter was back in court prosecuting three more, this time for violating California’s pot laws. Specifically, he claims, the defendants lied on their state and county permit applications to grow cannabis under California’s law legalizing consumption and cultivation passed by voters two years ago. To the extent Carter’s throwing the book at the defendants, he’s being exceedingly gentle about it. “These are all very nice people,” Carter said in the courthouse hallway. “Very nice.”
While all three defendants face a maximum sentence of three years behind bars, Carter stressed none are looking at jail time. “These are not dangerous people,” he said. They happen to be, however, the first three against whom criminal charges — felonies — have been filed in Santa Barbara County for violating the state’s legalized cannabis laws. All three, Carter claimed, falsified documents stating they were cultivating cannabis before January 2016. In order for growers to qualify for state temporary cultivation permits, they must show they were cultivating before that date.
Criminal defense attorney Nima Haddadi, who represents accused grower Gilberto Herrera, complimented Carter for being “very amicable and reasonable,” but he complained that no effort was made to contact his client before law enforcement officers swarmed onto his Santa Maria property and destroyed more than $1 million worth of crops. Had they done so, the confusion could have been averted and his crop cultivated and sold. “They’re trying to send a message,” Haddadi suggested. Carter all but conceded the point. Growers, he said, must comply with the law. In recent months, county cannabis officials have spearheaded numerous raids on illegal operations throughout the county, destroying millions of plants in the process. In September and October alone, they conducted 10 such actions, destroying 420,000 plants.