Pubdate: Thu, 25 Sep 2014
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2014 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Dan Walters
Note: Dan Walters is a Sacramento Bee columnist.
Page: A13


This is harvest time on California's scenic, sparsely populated North 
Coast - and that means the half-century-long war between marijuana 
growers and cops has resumed.

Growers in the Emerald Triangle - southern Humboldt County, northern 
Mendocino County and southwestern Trinity County - are gathering, 
processing, packaging and shipping what's been dubbed "Humboldt 
Gold," highly potent, prized and profitable marijuana obtained from 
unpollinated female plants.

This ritual has been annually repeated, to one extent or another, for 
a half-century, ever since counterculture types migrated into the 
region from the Bay Area.

Meanwhile, cops periodically swoop down on "gardens." Last week, for 
instance, the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office reported that it had 
raided five greenhouses in the southern part of the county, seized 
3,500 plants, arrested the 61-year-old grower and found $37,000 in 
cash and 283 pounds of marijuana packaged for shipment.

However, growers appear to consider it an acceptable risk of engaging 
in a lucrative trade, much like other farmers must cope with weather, 
and the intensity of anti-pot raids has diminished.

After nearly three decades, the state stopped financing its Campaign 
Against Marijuana Planting in 2012, though the federal Drug 
Enforcement Administration and local cops continue eradication efforts.

The growers and the cops are locked in a mutually beneficial, 
symbiotic relationship. As long as marijuana is illegal, it's 
expensive and therefore tremendously profitable, while the feds give 
money to cooperative local police agencies.

And as long as it's illegal, Humboldt Gold pumps hundreds of millions 
of dollars into local economies, replacing the once-dominant lumber industry.

Ryan Sundberg, a Humboldt County supervisor, told one journalist, 
"Most of us all know that marijuana is a huge part of our economy, 
and many businesses depend on that. It is what it is. For myself, I 
want it regulated and taxed."

But were it legalized, prices and profits would decline and the pot 
cops would be out of business.

Marijuana is semi-legal now, under a 1996 voter-passed measure 
allowing use for medical reasons, such as pain relief, thus giving 
rise to shops that operate openly. A 2013 Field Poll found that a 
majority of Californians believe it should be legalized.

Bills to legalize it further, a la Colorado, have been kicked around, 
but Gov. Jerry Brown and most legislators aren't budging. Brown 
signed a bill to reduce pot penalties in 1975 but has a harsher 
attitude now, asking one interviewer, "How many people can get stoned 
and still have a great state or a great nation?"

Meanwhile, several local ballot measures are pressing 
quasi-legalization this year and a statewide measure may appear in 2016.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom