June 28, 2011 09:32 PM EST |
ISLETON, Calif. - Officials in this cash-strapped Northern California city are defending their decision to approve a giant medical marijuana farm on the outskirts of town after a grand jury blasted them as having been lured by easy money.
The report says potential legal problems weren't adequately addressed before leaders moved to support a project that would total about 15,000 square feet on the edge of Isleton – a town of 800 about 40 miles south of Sacramento.
"The city allowed the community to be pushed into a project that is perched on the blurry edge of marijuana law without properly questioning the situation," a cover letter to the report from grand jury foreman Donald Prange Jr. reads. "It did so, not because of any desire to test the limits of the law, but because of the promise of money and jobs."
The medical marijuana collective Delta Allied Growers promised the city up to $600,000 in the first year of the farm's operation and officials blindly jumped at the opportunity, according to the grand jury report released Monday.
Isleton City Manager Bruce Pope, who was named in the report along with City Attorney David Larsen and Police Chief Rick Sullivan, said the city was unfairly targeted by District Attorney Jan Scully.
"We did our jobs the way we were supposed to," Pope told the Sacramento Bee. "The fact that a criminal prosecutor didn't like the way we did our jobs is beside the point."
No criminal charges have been filed in connection with the grand jury's probe. The city has until Sept. 21 to respond.
The report accused Larsen of an "improper financial interest" in the project for taking $100 an hour above his city-paid rate – money that came from the marijuana collective – to expedite the application for the farm Larsen told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the financial arrangement is common practice in other cities.
"These guys indicated they knew what they were doing. They were well-funded," he said of Delta. "It seemed to me this was a good use of a development agreement."
Sullivan's department was promised a security system for the town by the growers, according to the report. He did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Delta Allied officials also did not respond to a request for comment.
The project was scrapped in May, a little less than a year after Delta approached Isleton officials about it, after federal prosecutors sent a letter warning that it was illegal.
Delta had already brought in more than 1,000 marijuana plants to the site by then, according to the grand jury report.
The city of Oakland last summer approved a similar plan to license four industrial-scale pot-growing operations. That effort was placed on hold after warnings from prosecutors that city officials could face criminal charges and federal officials could crack down on growers.