As quickly as it became legal to light up a joint on your back porch, or even produce marijuana en masse, the legal backlash was probably faster. A couple of recent federal civil lawsuits have raised the stakes
Last month, in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, a Colorado plaintiff was given the green light to move forward with a Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) civil lawsuit against a marijuana-producing neighbor. In that case, the aggrieved plaintiffs argued that smelly cannabis production interfered with their horseback rides on the neighboring property (the plaintiffs did not live there).
Apparently taking this decision as a cue to strike, in Beavercreek, Oregon, a couple with a horse farm next door to a marijuana producer similarly filed a RICO suit, alleging that the producers have adversely affected their quality of life and their property’s value.
Most people may associate “RICO” with mob bosses in Goodfellas, but RICO gives a civil cause of action to aggrieved private parties as well, when federal subject matter is at stake. Unfortunately, the production, processing, sale and use of marijuana still falls under that subject matter.
But the two lawsuits mentioned above have something else in common apart from the plaintiffs being horse-riding enthusiasts: The plaintiffs were mad at their neighbors.
Many in the marijuana industry who read the pleadings in the lawsuit involving the Beavercreek growers will find the allegations obnoxious, petty, and perhaps absurd. The plaintiff, Rachel McCart (she is also the attorney initiating the suit), states that “[m]arijuana is a dangerous drug.” She names a whopping 42 different defendants, and brashly alleges that the State of Oregon “has no power” to create a regulatory scheme to legalize and condone the production, processing and sale of marijuana.
In impressive detail, McCart describes how the defendants repurposed a fishing cabin with power, fixtures, and running water for the purposes of “processing and packaging harvested marijuana.” McCart then alleges that the defendants (one ironically named “Good Neighbor”) advertised their wares on the Internet, including Facebook and Twitter. To make her “interstate commerce” argument, McCart describes license plates on vehicles from Virginia to Colorado to California, and notes the strategic location of a dispensary “minutes from Portland International Airport.”
At one point in the lawsuit, McCart states that “[i]n November 2015, Bank of America received written notice that the … Defendants, the mortgagors, were leasing the … Property to Defendant … for the purpose of producing and processing marijuana[.]” Could it be that the plaintiffs themselves dropped a dime to Bank of America in the hopes of initiating foreclosure?
Only someone driven by serious passion and purpose conceives and drafts such a detailed 61-page lawsuit in an effort to stick it to their next-door neighbor.
But those in the cannabis industry who dismiss this as the antics of an angry, unreasonable person the likes of which they’re not likely to meet again would do well to reconsider. McCart’s pleadings describe cannabis growers who directed obscene gestures at the plaintiffs, dramatically accelerated their loud 4×4 vehicles when they saw the plaintiffs outside their home, threw cigarette butts and candy wrappers out their window, and operated heavy machinery up and down their one-lane road that accesses their home at all hours of the day and night. The suit even describes one incident where a defendant screamed obscenities at the plaintiff while walking dogs on the plaintiff’s property. (All of these allegations, of course, have not yet been answered, much less proven.)
Is it possible that McCart would have initiated the lawsuit anyway even if the defendants had been more considerate? Sure. But anyone is bound to face repercussions if they treat their next-door neighbors like dirt. The problem for cannabis growers – at least until the Controlled Substances Act is amended – is that the repercussions they face could include treble damages (in other words, any monetary award given by the court would be tripled) and a total loss of their business.
At minimum, being a nasty neighbor could open you up to thousands in legal fees, and a huge headache that a few puffs of XJ-13 may not cure. There are a lot of complications associated with getting your OLCC license so you can cash in on the green gold rush, but some lessons are pretty simple: Be nice to your neighbors. They have more control over your fate than you think.
If being nice to your neighbors won’t work, then be careful which neighbors you choose.