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Published August 17, 2011, 02:51 AM

Judge: Pot is not ag crop, collective must move

FRESNO, Calif. — It grows in the ground, requires water and sunshine to blossom, and earns Californians an estimated $17 billion a year. But don't call marijuana an agricultural crop in Tulare County.

FRESNO, Calif. — It grows in the ground, requires water and sunshine to blossom, and earns Californians an estimated $17 billion a year. But don't call marijuana an agricultural crop in Tulare County.

The distinction was made clear by judge who ruled Tuesday in favor of the Board of Supervisors in its lawsuit claiming the Foothill Growers Association, a medical marijuana collective, was improperly operating in a warehouse on land zoned for agricultural uses.

The collective has until Friday to stop using the building after the judge said such collectives are allowed only in commercial and manufacturing zones.

Attorney Brandon Ormonde, who represents the collective, told the Fresno Bee marijuana is agricultural in nature but conceded it has never been legally recognized as a crop — something pro-marijuana groups say is absurd.

“If it's not a crop, I don't know what is,” said Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML, a group favoring legalization.

Tulare County, in California's agricultural heartland, is one of the top ag communities in the nation with total farm receipts at more than $4.8 billion last year.

Superior Court Judge Paul Vortmann wrote that marijuana has never been officially classified as an agricultural crop, a point on which the California Department of Food and Agriculture concurs. He added that growing a controlled substance such as pot does not constitute an agricultural use of property.

Even agricultural commissioners in two of the state's most marijuana-friendly counties — Mendocino and Alameda — don't consider pot a crop, officials said.

Still, Ted Eriksen Jr., the agricultural commissioner of Mendocino County in 1979, set off a firestorm when he listed marijuana in the county's annual crop report. Generating $90 million a year, it was then the county's top commodity after timber.

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