After the Calaveras Board of Supervisors decided to regulate medical cannabis in 2016, they took in $3.7 million in fees from people who wanted to grow medical cannabis.
Now, the County Auditor says the Sheriff's Department has misspent some of those funds.
Calaveras' journey to a regulated cannabis program has been rocky at best. The county government was handed the daunting task of designing a regulatory system from scratch.
"This is the first program that the county has ever undertaken that impacted every single department in county government," said County Auditor Controller Rebecca Callen.
The Planning Department is still working its way through 395 remaining permit applications. (As of August 4, 2017, 146 permits had been issued; 155 had been denied.)
The program pulls resources from the Building Department, the Sheriff's Department, Environmental Health - even animal control.
That's created confusion about which costs can apply to the cannabis fee collected by the county and which ones are "just the cost of doing business," Callen explains.
She said the marijuana ordinance is basically a land use agreement, so the fee can only be applied to administrative costs directly linked to the regulatory program.
In other words, anything surrounding the registration process.
"The background checks, the inspections, any of that is fine," Callen explains.
But according to Callen, Sheriff Rick DiBasilio has tapped the fee fund for criminal investigations into illicit pot grows, which continue to be a nightmare for law enforcement in Calaveras.
"He (DiBasilio) believes he should be able to take jail staff out there and actually do bookings and that all of the costs associated with booking and arresting these individuals should be charged against the regulatory fee,” Callen said.
The auditor said she's warned the Calaveras Sheriff and the Board of Supervisors about misspent fees.
"So far there's been very minimal corrective action from the Sheriff," Callen said.
Capital Public Radio reached out to Sheriff DiBasilio several times. He did not grant an interview for this story.
UPDATE Aug. 9: Calaveras County released a statement after this story was published, denying that any funds have been misspent:
"The County believes the cannabis regulatory program fee fund has properly been used to fund the regulatory program costs and the revenue that the County has received through the voter approved Measure C tax, along with other discretionary General Fund revenues, have been properly used to fund any ancillary and non-regulatory program costs incurred," the county said in a press release. "The County continues to update and formalize processes and procedures for the 2016 Cannabis Urgency Ordinance, which will be adopted by the Board of Supervisors where necessary, while a proposed ban ordinance makes its way through the approval process."
When contacted for comment, Calaveras Supervisor Michael Oliveira (District 3) said the cannabis fee funds issue will be discussed in a closed session of the Board Tuesday and that he could not comment until afterwards.
One of the items listed on the agenda for the closed session is: "Conference with legal counsel; anticpated litigation - significant exposure to litigation."
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