Lauren Mendelsohn, 29, grew up back East. She graduated from the UC Irvine School of Law in 2016, the year California voters approved Prop 64, ushering in a new era for cannabis law. These days, cultivation is largely a civil matter. Code-enforcement inspections are the norm, as are fines. Cops don’t raid unless there’s evidence that a grow is part of a criminal enterprise. Fish and Wildlife comes down hard on those who damage the environment.
Named a 2020 Northern California “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers, a rating service for the legal profession, Mendelsohn is the senior associate at Omar Figueroa’s Sebastopol law firm. During the pandemic, she has worked steadily from home, providing legal services to individuals and businesses in the cannabis industry. Locally, she’s involved with the Sonoma County Growers Alliance. She also serves on the Board of the International Cannabis Bar Association.
Mendelsohn drafts contracts, protects trademarks and helps clients obtain licenses to operate cannabis businesses. She pays special attention to detail and she’s good at client “hand-holding,” as well as public speaking, which helps when representing clients before planning commissions and county supervisors.
“In Sonoma County,” she tells me, “cannabis cultivation permits are either ‘ministerial’ or ‘discretionary.’ Discretionary permits typically involve a public hearing; ministerial permits don’t. They’re relatively quick and inexpensive.”
Sometimes even if requirements are met the county won’t issue a permit. That’s frustrating for growers. Lawyers can help.
Mendelsohn reminds me, “Cannabis is not 100 percent legal the way a tomato is. You can’t sell it without a license and you can only be authorized for commercial cultivation on certain types of properties and in accord with state and local regulations. To grow for personal use, you have to be at least 21 and not have more than six plants at your residence. Medical patients are allowed 100 square feet.”
In her view, the county’s cannabis program “has stalled. Tax revenue is unfortunately not what many thought it would be.” She adds, “A lot of the same issues come up repeatedly and it often feels like we’re going in circles.”
But Mendelsohn also points to new developments which might bring penalties for marijuana growers in alignment with existing penalties for others who violate codes.
One wonders if exorbitant fines are meant to stymie the cannabis industry.
“If we get new people in local government, big changes can take place,” Mendelsohn says. She hasn’t ruled out a campaign for public office. Anyone care to volunteer?