MENDOCINO COUNTY MARIJUANA
DrugSense FOCUS Alert #408 - Monday, 27 July 2009
Last week we distributed an alert about the Wall Street Journal front page article "With 'Med Pot' Raids Halted, Selling Grass Grows Greener" http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v09/n731/a02.html
Today readers of the Washington Post, including the folks on Capitol Hill, may read an article about marijuana in California.
In the first half of this year MAP has archived 782 news clippings about California marijuana. In the first half of last year it was 437. The increased interest in what is happening with the marijuana issue in California is real.
The Post writes on it's website "Letters must be fewer than 200 words and exclusive to The Washington Post. They may not have been submitted, posted to, or published by any other media. They must include the writer's home address, e-mail address, and home and business telephone numbers." 200 words is the average published letter length. However, longer well written letters have been published.
News items about marijuana in California may be found at http://www.mapinc.org/find?115
Pubdate: Mon, 27 Jul 2009
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2009 The Washington Post Company
Author: Karl Vick, Washington Post Staff Writer
Suddenly Righteous Dudes
MENDOCINO COUNTY, FAMOUSLY LAID BACK, RECONSIDERS ITS STANCE ON MARIJUANA
FORT BRAGG, Calif. -- The steel-haired old hippies who grow the finest marijuana in the world began taking over Mendocino County four decades ago.
"Going back to the '60s, early '70s in Mendocino County, land was cheap," said Tony Craver, twice elected sheriff, now retired. "Thirty-five hundred square miles, only three population centers, very little law enforcement. . . . The hippies, if you will, moved in and started growing pot. The hippies became the establishment."
Democratic government serves at the consent of the governed; in this jurisdiction, enforcement of marijuana laws would be lax at best. A "grow" became an accepted component of the homesteads established by the back-to-the-land transplants who made their way across the Golden Gate Bridge, past the vineyards of Sonoma and into the woods. At Area 101, a club named for the highway lined with billboards for hydroponics and fertilizer, December brings the Emerald Cup, a public competition for the "best bud" in the county, if not the world.
"It's so a part of Mendocino County," said K.C. Meadows, managing editor of the Ukiah Daily Journal. "There are fairly large businesses in this town that got their start with marijuana money. And that's okay with people."
How, then, to explain what happened to arrests here last year? Pot busts up 60 percent.
And what could account for the vote to roll back the nation's first law ordering police to make enforcement of marijuana laws their very lowest priority?
A paradox indeed: The clampdown was set in motion by the entire state of California barreling down the path Mendocino blazed. In a Rube Goldberg sequence of cause and effect, growing acceptance of marijuana elsewhere in the Golden State unleashed a confluence of demand, tolerance and legal ambiguity rooted in political cowardice.
The result set in motion forces that seriously harshed the mellow here and brought the "war on drugs" to the one place in America it had never really reached.
* * *
Pebbles Trippet arrived in Mendocino in 1970, escaping the drug laws of New York state. "California beckoned," said Trippet, an activist, columnist and grower who has been heard to ask, "Can I pay you in bud?"
The year she arrived, Congress passed the Controlled Substance Act, which ranked all drugs by capacity for harm. Marijuana landed alongside PCP and heroin on "Schedule 1," a ranking even the establishment found reason to revisit just two years later. A commission appointed by President Richard Nixon recommended lightening up.
"Damn near puked," Nixon said of this on the White House tapes, where he was heard ordering up a pot law "that just tears the [posterior] out of them." Meaning the longhaired, antiwar, free-love counterculture that was as much the object of the original war on drugs as any substance was.
But in the years ahead more and more Americans sampled marijuana, and the republic remained standing. Then doctors defied the premise of the Schedule 1 holding of "no medicinal value" by reporting that marijuana alleviated conditions from glaucoma to asthma.
Today, Trippet, 66, is president of the Mendocino Medical Marijuana Patients Union, a title that tidily sums up the current state of play on the issue: In 1996 California's voters passed Proposition 215, legalizing pot for medical use.
Lawmakers in Sacramento took a few years to gauge the politics of the required implementing legislation. When they finally did, it was a wink: They decreed in 2003 that marijuana could be used to treat "any . . . illness."
And if that wasn't clear enough, the bill was numbered SB420 -- 420 being a code phrase in the pot subculture. 420 Magazine competes with High Times.
In May, the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed the new reality: Anyone with a doctor's card can smoke dope. What remains woefully unclear is where they are supposed to find it. Mendocino was an obvious place to look.
In 2001, two years before the wink from Sacramento, Mendocino residents approved Measure G, permitting the holder of a medical card to grow 25 plants.
It was a strong signal to city dwellers hard-pressed for the space to grow their own. Indeed, the county's growers were superbly positioned. Aside from the let-it-grow culture, the high-end strains originally cultivated in Mendocino became the preferred stock for the storefront "dispensaries" that began opening elsewhere in the state.
"Things just took off," Trippet said. "Just about everyone felt they could grow. By then it was half the county. Now it's probably two-thirds."
The money was easy. At the service window of a dispensary, patients page through binders of bagged snippets of Purple Kush and Train Reck. The tag says $50 for an eighth of an ounce. Growers could expect $4,000 for a pound, and get four harvests a year, growing indoors.
"What a difference a couple of years make!" proclaimed the emcee at the Emerald Cup. "We all have medical permits. Everyone grows in the full sun. Marijuana is blooming right into mainstream America. The judging gets harder every year. And it's only going to get better!"
But it didn't.
* * *
As growers lost sight of limits, things somehow got worse. The money changed people.
Now some growers planted in town, considered declasse because flowering buds put up a powerful stink. In Ukiah, the county seat, a man was shot after climbing into a fenced pot patch. Another suffered a heart attack halfway over.
"It's a huge problem in our schools," said Meredith Lintott, the district attorney. "Children come in reeking of marijuana."
Worse, outsiders poured in, some armed. In September, three carloads of men aged 18 to 24 arrived from Sacramento carrying guns, radios and pruning shears. They had read about Mendocino in High Times. Home invasions rose to 40 from 24 the previous year.
None of this was the Mendocino way. Mexican cartels grow pot in Northern California, but off in the national forests in huge grows that produce inferior herb. Locals brought a specific sensibility to their work, one in the spirit of the "New Settlers" who produced the nation's first organic commercial wine, at Frey Vineyards, and the first organic microbrew, at Ukiah Brewing Co.
The outsiders, "these are people who had no pride of ownership," said Tom Allman, who was elected sheriff amid the tumult. "They don't care what they do to our land. A guy with a Caterpillar took off tops of two hills. . . . This is where government has to step in and do compliance checks."
"I think after 2007, people started to look around and say, you know what? This isn't great the way it is going down," said Scott Zeramby, who runs a small garden supply store in Fort Bragg. "We've all seen it go from back-to-the-landers, where people wanted to get away from it all, to people who came here to get it all. Property values got so high, the only way you could afford it was to break the law."
And so, in November, a measure passed to scale back Mendocino's legal limit to the state's suggested six-plant minimum. The sheriff sensed a mandate. Tips rolled in, and deputies saddled up.
On Feb. 20, they busted the younger sister of a student shot dead at Kent State in 1970. Allison Krause was the young woman who said of the flowers in the barrels of the National Guardsmen who would shoot her and four others: "Flowers are better than bullets."
"I thought this was a community that was forward-thinking, progressive -- that thought marijuana was a good thing!" said Laurel Krause, who was accused of having too many plants.
Her doctor's card recommended pot to alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder occasioned by Allison's death.
The social dynamics of small towns played a role in the backlash. Krause, who arrived from Silicon Valley, counts as an outsider. Her 24 plants grew under lights in a shipping container -- outsized PG&E bills are a reliable tip-off to cultivation -- but it vented onto the land of a neighbor, who called the sheriff.
"They'd be growing 75 plants in their back yard," Craver said. "It'd be stinking -- and it does in the summer, while your neighbor's trying to have a barbecue."
But there are greater forces at work as well. When state lawmakers legalized medical marijuana, they left the supply chain in the shadows. Drug dealers got to call themselves dispensary operators. But what were growers?
"When you come out, you have confused notions about what's possible," said Trippet, who grew 100 plants on her property a couple of years ago, but is down to 60 out of prudence. "You're not used to working at this end of the envelope. Many didn't know about the limits."
Jerry Brown, known as Gov. Moonbeam in the '80s, is California's attorney general. His office last year took a stab at the open question of supply, publishing guidelines for enforcement of SB420. The guidelines hewed to the notion that suppliers of medical marijuana are "caregivers" and allowed "patients" to organize themselves as collectives.
"The AG's new guidelines basically require the industry be vertically integrated. And to do that, you've got to get big. And that comes with risks," said a Fort Bragg resident, hollow-eyed from lack of sleep after her arrest. She was swept up with her boyfriend's huge grow, taken down even though it was supplying dispensaries.
"I wouldn't have gotten involved if I didn't think it was legal," she said.
A San Francisco Assembly member, Tom Ammiano, has introduced a bill taking what he calls the logical next step: legalizing marijuana, regulating it and taxing it. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urged a serious debate, now unfolding in the state's media.
"If everybody doesn't do it together -- state, federal, county -- it doesn't work," said Zeramby, the garden shop owner. "The communities with the most liberal standards are going to be inundated with the most opportunistic people."
Legalization might well serve the consumer. "There is no way it costs $3,000 to $4,000 a pound to cultivate marijuana," said Keith Faulder, a former prosecutor who now defends pot cases in Ukiah. "These are the costs of keeping it underground."
Growers, however, may well prefer the status quo, even with the risks. That would put them in a rare alliance with the police and prosecutors who back in 1996 campaigned against Proposition 215, warning against precisely what has come to pass.
"It's going, definitely, in a direction that I don't believe in," said Ron Brooks, president of the National Narcotics Officers' Associations' Coalition. His last, best case against: "Even if it's no worse than alcohol, we all know of people who lost their livelihood and their lives. Why would we admit legal respectability to another powerful drug?"
In Mendocino, though, the quest is only for the clarity ducked by lawmakers, and emerging from courts at a pace that does little to help Sheriff Allman. Constituents pepper him with questions.
Down at the courthouse, the district attorney sighs.
"It's extremely confusing, even for those who work in it every single day," Lintott said. "Clearly when the law was passed the cover was cancer, glaucoma -- real distinct health issues. We're not there anymore."
She sagged a bit behind her desk.
"Quite frankly, I might benefit from a card. This is a high-stress job. It would probably do me good to go home and smoke some pot in the evening."
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Prepared by: Richard Lake, Senior Editor www.mapinc.org
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