Pubdate: Tue, 24 Feb 2009
Source: Times-Standard (Eureka, CA)
Copyright: 2009 Times-Standard
Author: Jeffrey Schwartz, For the Times-Standard
Note: Jeffrey Schwartz is an Arcata attorney practicing criminal 
defense law in Humboldt and Mendocino counties. He resides in Willits 
and Arcata.
Bookmark: (Marijuana - California)


Some elected officials in the criminal justice systems in Humboldt 
and Mendocino counties now act as if voters and legislators gave them 
a mandate to adopt a harsh penal policy toward marijuana growers. 
This is a recent and ominous change.

Measure B last June in Mendocino rescinded a previous measure that 
allowed for the personal possession of and expanded cultivation of 
medical marijuana. Arcata adopted an ordinance late last year that 
regulates grow houses. Together, these two measures and other similar 
ones emboldened the prosecutor in Mendocino County and a judge or two 
in Humboldt County to take a hard line on marijuana growers. These 
elected officials should be cautious. While they lead a backlash 
against the spread of marijuana cultivation, with harsher punishment 
for growers, they risk a stronger backlash at the polls.

It is disconcerting to hear around the courthouses of Mendocino 
County deputy district attorneys with marching orders arguing "zero 
tolerance" on marijuana cases and at least one judge in Humboldt 
County meting out sentences on first-time marijuana growers until now 
reserved for cocaine and meth dealers. One deputy district attorney 
in Mendocino stated, "the people have spoken," referring to Measure 
B, when demanding a 365-day sentence for a 19-year old HSU student 
caught driving a few pounds of marijuana through Willits. This is a 
kid with a perfectly clean record. The type of felony insisted on by 
the DA will never come off his rap sheet and will destroy his chance 
of getting a decent job in the future.

We need to gain perspective. We should remember that the personal 
possession of marijuana is all but legal in California -- if one is 
caught with an ounce or less of marijuana the penalty is a $100 fine, 
it is basically a traffic ticket. Should we treat the people who 
provide them with an ounce of what is all but legal the same way we 
treat heroin, cocaine or meth dealers?

Consider the recent case of a Humboldt County judge who grabbed the 
"mandate" and recently sentenced three marijuana growers to nine 
months in county jail, three months longer than the most hard-line 
deputy district attorney in Humboldt County had even requested.

Zero tolerance on marijuana growers may become contagious in our 
courthouses among the judges. If that happens, the would-be hard-line 
judges and the Mendocino district attorney will have sorely 
misconstrued what our collective community intended when they passed 
or agreed with these ordinances. The residents who voted for Measure 
B and support regulations on grow houses in Arcata were fed up with 
the abuses of marijuana growing and the noise and smell and pollution 
that go with it; in the same way they don't want a roofer setting up 
a tar boiling operation next door.

Harsher punishment of marijuana growers is a big mistake for an 
elected official. Marijuana decriminalization in our counties is a 
hot issue like abortion and gay marriage. There are a whole lot of 
people supporting both sides of the issue -- and then there are the 
blogging Rush Limbaugh types. With marijuana, as is the case with 
pro-choice and the right to marry, the majority in our counties want 
it decriminalized.

In coastal Northern California we suffer from limited budgets and 
small police departments but we spend an exorbitant amount of public 
funds in the form of police and top-of-the-line prosecutors' time and 
county jail space to put marijuana growers behind bars. In Humboldt, 
one of the two best prosecutors in the office is spending her time 
prosecuting marijuana growers instead of child molesters, rapists or murderers.

These officials of the criminal justice system need to wake up or 
when their elected terms end, they will find themselves back in 
private practice. The people of Mendocino and Humboldt counties are 
looking for regulation not criminalization.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake