Fresno County imposes marijuana growing fines

FRESNO, Calif.

The Board of Supervisors imposed a $43,000 fine on a woman who was growing 43 marijuana plants.

The first target of the ban on growing marijuana, medical or otherwise, was given three minutes to plead her case.

Phaith Holapatiphone pleaded with the board, "I didn't get a fair warning, they came in one afternoon, and talked to my brother when I wasn't present and it was either comply or we'll take you to jail."

Deputies discovered 43 marijuana plants on Holapatiphone's mothers property near Sanger. So, she complied with their order to remove the plants. But that wasn't the end of it because under Fresno County's pot ordinance she still faces a $1,000.00 per plant fine. She admitted to being confused.

Phaith said, "I didn't know what to do, and I still don't know what to do."

For the supervisors, that was no excuse. Debbie Poochigian told the woman, "The ordinance is what it is, and to back off of it now because you weren't sure or you didn't know or a whole bunch of reasons is not a good idea."

But the board members themselves were confused as to what they were doing. Board President Andreas Borgeas repeatedly sought information from the county's attorney, and explained: "I'm just trying to get a framework from where we are starting because this is our very first time."

Medical Marijuana advocate Michael Green pounced on the board members seeming uncertainty about their own ordinance. Green said, "If you are confused about what's going on and then you stand up here and say ignorance of the law is no excuse, what have you been smoking."

The Fresno County ordinance stats anyone caught growing marijuana will have 15 days to get rid of their plants, or face a hearing and be fined. But it also states just being caught with plants gets you a fine, without a hearing. Hoapatiphone's lawyer, Brenda Linder, says the ordinance is confusing, and she believes unconstitutionally excessive. Far beyond a criminal fine.

"If you are convicted of a criminal misdemeanor you can be handed a fine for $1,000.00 but the area already stated on the record this is an administrative fine and they are limited," said Linder. "I'm not really sure what happened here today."

Immediately after hearing the first case the board considered a second case involving a marijuana growing operation near Kerman. In that case they imposed a $30,000 fine for 30 plants.

In that case supervisor Poochigian tried to defend the property owner because he claimed he didn't know the marijuana was growing on the property. However, the board moved forward and imposed the fine. In both cases the county will place a lien on the property to secure the debt.

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