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POSTED March 18, 2013 10:04 p.m.

EUREKA (AP) — Mendocino County officials and the U.S. attorney for Northern California may be trying to reach an out-of-court settlement in a long-running dispute over records from the county's medical marijuana program, a lawyer in the case said Monday.

A hearing in the county's effort to quash a grand jury subpoena for the records had been set for Tuesday in San Francisco, but on Monday it was taken off the docket of U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg.

The files in question relate to a program that issued permits to medical marijuana growers until Mendocino County lawmakers ended it last year.

The move came after representatives of U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag's office warned that sanctioning pot cultivation could put county officials in violation of federal drug laws.

A cancellation of a scheduled status conference at this stage of the proceedings often signals that settlement talks are in the works, said Adam Wolf, a lawyer representing Northern California medical marijuana growers and users in the case.

Lawyers for the county argued in their motion to suppress the subpoena that it was too broadly written and unnecessarily intrusive in county affairs. Wolf believes the motion left room for compromise.

"Oftentimes, grand jury subpoenas are broader than they need to be," Wolf, said. "The government will then confer with the recipient of the subpoena."

County Counsel Tom Parker said federal prosecutors asked to have the case removed from the calendar for the time being, but he declined comment on the possible significance.

"We don't think the time is ripe for a hearing," Parker said.

A spokeswoman for Haag, whose office is overseeing the grand jury's work, could not immediately be reached for comment.

In October, after a year-long crackdown on California's medical marijuana growers and dispensaries by the state's four federal prosecutors, Haag's office subpoenaed Mendocino's auditor-controller and sheriff seeking all records about the program that had allowed certain marijuana growers to cultivate as many as 99 plants if they agreed to regular inspections and met certain operating conditions.

Growers with permits were issued numbered red zip ties for each plant, confirming the county's seal of approval and giving a visiting deputy proof the pot was being grown legally as far as the local government was concerned.

The information sought included inspection records, permit applications, correspondence between inspectors and county supervisors, and financial information from the program, which generated more than $1 million in fees for the county before it was canceled.

The subpoena gave the county until Jan. 8 to comply, but the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors voted to instead fight the demand for records.

Supporters of medical marijuana and state and local government officials objected to the inquiry as the most blatant assault on California's authority to legalize medical marijuana.

Pot remains illegal under federal law, although using marijuana for health reasons is now legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia, and voters in two states — Colorado and Washington — authorized its recreational use last year.


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