Innocent people in Humboldt County are being fined millions for cannabis crimes

Humboldt County's Code Enforcement Office is using outdated satellite imagery to issue massive fines for illegal cannabis cultivation against people who have never grown cannabis before. According to the Institute for Justice, the officers rarely visit the properties and rely on satellite images alone to make a decision on whether or not to issue a fine.

Institute for Justice has filed a lawsuit to stop the abusive code enforcement officers who are too lazy or cruel to do their jobs properly.

From Institute for Justice:

In 2018, after a wildfire destroyed their Southern California home, Corrine and Doug Thomas did their best to find a silver lining and turn that nightmare into a dream: They packed up their remaining possessions, and—along with one of their two autistic adult sons—bought a modest home nestled in Northern California's fabled redwood forests. The home, which is perched on a hill over the Avenue of the Giants highway in Humboldt County, was a perfect fit for their family and included a large barn out back for Doug's workshop.

Unfortunately, the Thomases' dream quickly turned into a terrible new nightmare.

Just six days after moving in, they received a notice from the county fining them $12,000 per day because the previous owners had used the barn to grow cannabis over two years before the Thomases bought it. The county, which requires a lengthy permit process for demolitions, gave them just ten days to tear it down. Panicked, they hired a building engineer, who estimated that the demolition would cost more than $180,000—which was money they don't have. As of today, they have accrued more than $1 million in fines.

By the county's reasoning, anyone with a greenhouse, cleared garden, barn or any other structure that could be used to grow cannabis is assumed to be growing cannabis and fined at least $10,000 per day. Humboldt accuses property owners of cannabis-related offenses without any proof or process. The county rarely bothers to conduct even the most cursory investigation. If the inspector had visited the Thomases', for instance, he would have found an empty barn with a few tools. But Humboldt's inspectors have admitted that they frequently rely on satellite images alone to issue fines.

The Thomases, like hundreds of other Humboldt property owners, are victims of the county's so-called "abatement" program, which levies crippling fines based on unfounded, scattershot allegations that property owners are growing cannabis without paying the county for a permit. Once fined, owners face a legal labyrinth to prove their innocence. In the Thomases' case, for instance, they've waited more than a year for the county to schedule a simple hearing to plead their case. Even as the Thomases waited for a hearing, the daily fines continued to accrue.