Fresno County acted improperly when it imposed a $99,000 fine on a medical cannabis grower, a judge has ruled.
Xiong Thao was cited for growing 99 cannabis plants in March 2014, the Fresno Bee reported, even though he had pulled up and removed the plants before the citation was issued by the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office. Fresno County Superior Court Judge Dale Ikeda said that language in the ordinance allows 15 days for removal of the plants, so even Thao he had not removed the plants before deputies returned with a citation, the plants could have remained without a citation or fines imposed until after 15 days had passed.
The fine was imposed by the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, which also rejected Thao’s appeal while sitting as an appeal board. Ikeda’s ruling did not address whether the appeal hearing was conducted before a neutral arbiter, but focused on the narrow issue of notice. “[T]he Court concludes that Thao’s removal of the marijuana plants prior to the issuance of the Fifteen-Day Notice to Abate precludes the Board from imposing administrative fines or penalties on Thao,” Ikeda wrote in the preface to his 36-page ruling.
While the ruling does not set legal precedent, several other cannabis cultivation fine appeals are pending before the same judge. In February, the Board of Supervisors amended the ordinance to “clarify” that no notice was needed before removing plants or issuing fines, and the board affirmed more than $600,000 in fines at its Tuesday meeting.