Property owners appeal Fresno County marijuana growing fines

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Fresno County's ban on all marijuana growing has snared unwitting property owners like Carl Hager. He faced a potential fine of $228,000. (KFSN)

Fresno County's ban on all marijuana growing has snared unwitting property owners like Carl Hager. He faced a potential fine of $228,000 for the marijuana sheriff's deputies found growing on his rental property last summer.

"I think they are casting a broad net. I think they are charging exorbitant fines." Hager told Action News.

The renter who actually grew the pot on Hager's land fled the state. Hager went before the Fresno County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to appeal the fines. He convinced the board he knew nothing about the growing operation, and after months of agonizing got off the hook.

"I'm relieved now but I am still so stressed by this whole thing," said Hager. "I lost a day of work, my wife lost a day of work, you know have to come down here and present ourselves in front of a board, people you don't know."

Supervisor Andreas Borgeas acknowledged the process is not ideal, but believe it is cutting down on marijuana growing.

Borgeas said, "This ordinance the zero tolerance marijuana ordinance is definitely improving our public's safety."

But Borgeas said he would prefer the review of these cases be put before a hearing officer, not the full Board of Supervisors.

While state law allows patients to grow their own medical marijuana Fresno County is trying to stop any growing by making it not a crime, but an ordinance violation subject to fines of $1,000 per plant. Medical Marijuana advocate Michael Green questions the tactic.

Green said, "The message is rip plants first, ask questions later and don't get picky on the details."

While the county talks tough, its attorneys have been skittish. They dropped the first case that went before a judge and avoided a ruling on the legality of the ordinance. But a dozen more court challenges are pending.

In the meantime, more property owners will have to come downtown to try and convince not a judge or jury, but the Board of Supervisors they are not guilty.

Hager told Action News, "I don't think it's fair. I don't think it will stand up in court eventually but unfortunately a lot of people are going to have to go through this horrible process before it changes."



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