Here’s an August 28, 2018, piece by Cheryl Miller, a reporter for The Recorder, on a federal lawsuit in Sonoma County where several property owners are suing a marijuana farm under a RICO statute. Apparently unbeknownst to me, the RICO statute is a great tool of persuasion for property owners who are bothered by the smell of marijuana farming. In the hands of good litigation counsel, RICO sounds a lot like an offer (to cave) that oughtn’t be refused. The plaintiffs and their lawyers are probably unconcerned about the residents of Wichita, Kansas, whose drinking (and cooking and washing) well water has been contaminated from the chemicals in a nearby dry cleaning plant – for six years without notice to the residents (including those with wells). Supposedly the dry cleaning lobbyists successfully maneuvered the state legislature to prevent authorities from testing the water for contamination from their highly toxic chemicals. Now, six years later, the people of Wichita want answers – as they realize they have been drinking and cooking with toxic water for several years, maybe for the bulk of the lives of their children. When it comes to marijuana, with an administration that is enthusiastically and openly undoing EPA standards at an alarming rate, there will be a greater need for medicinal THC and CBD, yes? What goes around comes around, of course.
This article https://www.law.com/therecorder/2018/08/28/sonoma-residents-sue-marijuana-farm-over-alleged-skunk-like-stench/reports on the litigation filed in a federal district court in Sonoma County over potential liability under RICO for engaging in a smelly business. I recall a California nuisance case involving a smelly chicken farm, so there’s no denying here might be an action under state law for nuisance. But RICO? Well, it appears there have been several cases across the country using the fact of federal illegality of the marijuana industry as the basis for charging racketeering violations for growing marijuana in violation of the federal statutes. Get it? Never mind the feds don’t have to prosecute those violations inside states that have expressly legalized marijuana (and mostly they don’t, as far as I understand it), now private citizens can use federal RICO leverage against businesses that commit nuisance under state law.
The allegations in the federal action take full use of RICO’s statutory penalties, including treble damages. If someone wanted to put a marijuana grower out of business, notwithstanding the arguments made in favor of the product, this “meritorious” – although arguably unconscionable – litigation could do the trick. Not sure if a Go Fund Me campaign could even begin to touch the attorney’s fees that will be required to stay alive long enough to hear the verdict of the Sonoma district court to rule on whether RICO applies in its situation. As the worthy article notes, allegations of RICO in such cases are receiving mixed reviews (ahem, I mean rulings) from the ones making the decisions at the trial court level.
If you’re interested in the use of RICO in marijuana cases, this is a quick read. I recommend it.
(Janet Sobel, Esq., receives no compensation of any kind from The Recorder publication. The opinions she expresses in connection with sharing her view of The Recorder’s articles are strictly her own, attributable to her own cogitation.)