One of the most representative manifestations of community discord is abatement. Abatement is a civil process that addresses violations of county code. Trinity County ordinances for marijuana are housed under land use code, and through 2015 the maximum number of marijuana plants allowed was eight. This ordinance was almost universally ignored, meaning that the vast majority of grows were in violation of county code.
In the abatement system, violations are cited, and fines accrue until the violation is remedied, in the same way they would for other codes such as septic or building. In the case of marijuana, the violations are housed under civil code, so violators won’t garner a criminal record. If the violation is not remedied, the county can “abate,” or fix, the problem. Meaning, in this case, to send sheriff’s officers to chop down someone’s pot plants.
The incredible thing about Trinity County’s marijuana abatement system is that it’s a complaint-driven process, meaning that the local planning department can cite violators, but also that residents can call and report alleged violations. This means that citizens can report other citizens for how much marijuana they are growing.
An abatement story:
In the abatement process, growers may be charged a multitude of fines from the county, and if they are unable to pay them may suffer debt and other repercussions such as injunction or property liens. They also run the risk of abatement being the catalyst for other legal issues, or drawing attention that leads to criminal charges. They will also lose their crop, which for many means a loss of livelihood.
As a complaint-based system, this can create a whole new level of conflict. Neighbors, or community members, have the ability to remove growers’ ability to support themselves, and to impact their lives in long-term ways. In the past, citizens publicly advocating for abatement have faced a serious risk of reprisal, some reporting repercussions such as vandalism and threats.
Those who report violators are kept anonymous, but in small communities where gossip and information spreads like wildfire, there is a higher risk of being found out or wrongly suspected. In a small town, reporting the house down the block for their pot farm could be a risky move. The reaction of a grower who has lost, potentially, thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars and faces related legal issues is hard to predict, but does pose potential risks to those who report.
In practice, the county ordinance has been largely gathering dust — the county didn’t follow up on violations, and most citizens were unaware that the system existed. But in 2015, angry citizens began rallying for abatement at local board of supervisor’s meetings, turning out by the dozens to address the board. Following a series of passionate and accusatory meetings demanding county enforcement, a suite of abatements was enacted that summer, and the board began looking anew at their abatement system and increased enforcement efforts.
How well abatement works as a deterrent to negative production outcomes remains to be seen, as does the social turmoil that may come from it. But, in a time of increased production and changing legal status, there is a now a new way for those opposed to the industry to take action.