Pubdate: Thu, 30 Nov 2000
Source: Point Reyes Light (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Tomales Bay Publishing Company/Point Reyes Light
Author: David V. Mitchell


Mendocino County voters this month sent local law enforcement a
message to continue its low-key approach toward pot growers, which
ironically is the approach Marin County used throughout most of the

 From 1974 until 1980, no one was prosecuted in this county for growing
marijuana, no matter how big his patch was. But in 1978, Jerry Herman
was elected district attorney, and in 1980 he pressured the Board of
Supervisors into a 4-1 vote to resurrect a county narcotics squad.
Supervisor Gary Giacomini cast the dissenting vote.

In 1998, Herman retired in disgrace, with much of Marin angry that he
had continued to collect a $132,000 per year salary for 18 months
after he quit coming to work because of ill health. Unfortunately, we
are stuck with the legacy of his grandstanding, which grew out of
rivalry with former Sheriff Al Howenstein.

Under Howenstein and his predecessor Lou Mountanos, residents with
small pot patches felt free to call deputies if pot thieves showed up.
The officers would arrest the thieves and leave the patches alone. It
was a policy designed to prevent vigilante action, and it worked.

However, in 1984 after the policy ended, a grower in Novato was forced
to kill a thief who brutally attacked him after the grower caught the
19 year old raiding his pot patch. (The grower was eventually
exonerated of murder on the basis of self-defense.) Score one for the
stupidity of Herman's anti-pot policies.

In the days before Herman, Marin citizens and officials realized
marijuana use just isn't that serious - although the Nicasio School
Board in 1967 decided principal Garnett Brennan had gone too far when
she publicly announced she had smoked pot for 18 years.

Herman tried to claim his get-tough-on-pot policies merely reflected
changing national attitudes notwithstanding the fact that President
Jimmy Carter three years earlier had proposed the federal government
decriminalize possession of less than one ounce of pot. And in 1978,
the following year, Dr. Peter Bourne, Carter's aide for drug abuse,
disclosed he smoked marijuana on occasion, as did current State Senate
Pro Tempore John Burton.

About this time, the County of Sonoma disbanded its once-aggressive
narcotics squad while over in Oakland, Court of Appeals Justice Paul
Halvonick was found to be growing marijuana at his home.

With all this going on, then-State Senator Barry Keene polled his
constituents and found that 78 percent of them favored reducing or
eliminating penalties for marijuana growing.

Despite a national disconnect between politicians and the public
regarding marijuana laws, the California Legislature led by
then-Assembly Speaker Willie Brown did reduce to a $100 misdemeanor
the penalty for possession of up to one ounce of pot.

With Americans these days increasingly dissatisfied with the human and
financial cost of locking up pot traffickers, the states of
California, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and
Washington have in the past four years decriminalized the use of
marijuana for medical purposes.

This week, the US Supreme Court agreed to decide if states can allow
seriously ill patients to be treated with marijuana despite federal
laws to the contrary. A lower court decision had given the Oakland
Cannabis Buyers' Club the go-ahead to distribute pot, but the Clinton
Administration appealed the ruling.

The odd thing about all this is that marijuana and drugs similar to it
have been used in Western Civilization since at least the time of
Homer in the 9th century BC.

Awhile back, it occurred to me that in college I had read in Homer's
Odyssey about something that sounded remarkably like the lethargic
euphoria associated with marijuana. Unable to find the passage on my
own, I asked Point Reyes Station attorney Bob Powsner, a parttime
scholar of the classics, for help.

As Powsner informed me, the passage describes the sweet melancholy
that overcame members of Odysseus' crew in "The Land of the Lotus
Eaters." After consuming "the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus," Homer
said, "they longed to stay forever, browsing on that native bloom,
forgetful of their homeland."

Commenting on the crew's consumption of the lotus, by which Homer
probably meant the jujube berry, not the lily, Denton Snider in 1895
wrote: "The will is broken, all activity is stopped; the land of
idlers it is, relaxed in a sensuous dream life, in which there is a
complete collapse of volition."

The "complete collapse of volition" may not be all that bad when the
alternative frequently is rowdy drunkenness. Nor is being "relaxed in
a sensuous dream life" necessarily a waste of time. Astronomer Carl
Sagan claimed to have reached many of his insights while stoned.

By now, the federal "war on drugs" has become a war on people of
color. Thousands of innocent, minority motorists have been stopped,
questioned, and searched in the last 15 years. Why? Because the US
Drug Enforcement Agency in 1986 began encouraging local police to stop
cars occupied by "people wearing dreadlocks and cars with two Latino
males traveling together," Wednesday's Chronicle noted, while also
reporting that the Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled such traffic stops
are unconstitutional. Unfortunately anti-drug warriors in Washington,
such as Senator Dianne Feinstein of Stinson Beach, don't know Homer
from Jethro. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake