Pubdate: Sun, 24 Nov 2013
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2013 The Press Democrat
Author: Glenda Anderson


The man leading the major crimes task force in Mendocino County says 
half of the county's residents are involved in some aspect of the 
thriving marijuana industry, drawing the ire of some and agreement from others.

Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force Commander Rich Russell estimates 
that half of Mendocino County's 87,400 residents are engaged in 
growing, distributing and preparing pot for market.

"It is a disservice to the many thousands of law-abiding people in 
the county to make such unsubstantiated claims," said Mendocino 
County Supervisor John McCowen.

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said the estimate is inflated.

"I don't agree with that," he said. Allman declined to offer a 
counter estimate, saying those kinds of guesses damage law 
enforcement's credibility.

Ukiah defense attorney Bob Boyd, whose cases primarily involve 
marijuana, agrees with Allman.

"I don't think there's any basis for what he's saying," he said. "It 
seems he has a very jaded view of the community he serves."

Russell stands by his estimate and said the percentage of people 
involved with marijuana production in Sonoma and Lake counties is 
probably close behind Mendocino County's. He expects that Humboldt 
County's would be higher. Russell's estimate includes seasonal 
workers who trim pot plants and hydroponic businesses that sell 
cultivation materials.

"It's big everywhere in Northern California," he said.

Lake County Sheriff Frank Rivero said nowhere near half of Lake 
County's population is involved in marijuana production.

"I would say it's a small percentage. I would say less than 10 
percent," he said.

Sonoma County Sheriff's narcotics task force Detective Sgt. Steve 
Gossett said he has "no idea" how many people in Sonoma County are 
involved in marijuana production and sales.

"I don't know how you would begin to estimate," he said.

Humboldt County Sheriff's officials did not respond to inquiries but 
Humboldt State University economics professor Erick Eschker, who 
studies marijuana, said half seems like a large number for his county.

Russell said he has no statistical information to back his figure. 
But he believes it's a good estimate, one that is based on his 
training, background, contacts and what he sees in area backyards from the air.

"From Laytonville north, you have to search for a yard that doesn't 
have marijuana growing," Russell said.

Mendocino County long has been one of the state's top marijuana 
producers, based on the number of plants seized by law enforcement.

As of Oct. 1, the sheriff's two-man marijuana eradication team had 
confiscated almost 80,000 plants and 3,349 pounds of processed pot, 
officials said.

Russell, a state Department of Justice employee, said his multiagency 
team has confiscated more than 100,000 plants in the county so far this year.

Those are small numbers compared to previous years when there were 
more marijuana eradication resources provided by state and federal 
agencies. More than 340,000 plants were seized in Mendocino County by 
the state Campaign Against Marijuana Planting in 2011. CAMP seized 
more than 572,000 plants in the county in 2010.

It's widely believed that marijuana is Mendocino County's top crop.

John Kuhry, executive director of the Economic Development and 
Financing Corp., said the marijuana industry is a huge part of 
Mendocino County's economy and he wouldn't be surprised if half of 
the population has some kind of involvement in its production.

"It would be a fair estimate," he said.

Mendocino County Farm Bureau Executive Director Devon Jones said 
she's inclined to agree.

"Obviously, those guys would know," she said, referring to Russell.

"I would say it could be close to that number," she added. "I know 
it's a big percentage."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom