Source:   Associated Press 4/24

Could medical marijuana legitimize famed Northern California pot?
AP Photos FX101104
By Martha Irvine
Associated Press Writer

Denny, Calif. (AP)Just about everyone for miles around knows that B.E.
Smith has grown marijuana for years in the back woods of Northern California.
     But if they didn't they do now.
     Smith brazenly announced that fact  and his intent to plant more than
an acre of marijuana for medical purposes by midsummer  to the somewhat
bewildered Trinity County supervisors this month.
     "You could say I'm coming out of the closet," says a chuckling Smith, a
selfproclaimed freedom fighter and avid pot smoker who has run for county
sheriff twice.
With the passage of California's new medical marijuana law, the 50yearold
pot farmer envisions the day when marijuana will be grown in wide open fields
"like hay" or any other legal cash crop.
     "We could do for marijuana what Napa Valley has done for wine," Smith
says, standing in a small plot in the Trinity Alps where he plans to grow his
     Few pot growers are willing to speak as openly as Smith. But he's not
the only one who thinks medical marijuana will reshape the Emerald Triangle,
the famed Northern California potgrowing region of Humboldt, Mendocino and
Trinity counties.
For years, the region's dense forests and steep hillsides have provided the
perfect cover for clandestine marijuana patches. Pot is so common that locals
say bags of the weed are traded for groceries or even a country doctor's
     These days, doctors are prescribing marijuana for their patients.
     "Now we have a place to stand and walk from," a 26yearold Eureka pot
grower says of the new law, based on voterapproved Proposition 215.
     This particular grower has contracts to sell most of his harvest to a
new club in nearby Arcata that distributes plants and marijuana to patients.
But his wish to remain anonymous illustrates the confusion over just who may
grow the otherwise illegal drug under the new law.
     "It's a wideopen situation," says Ray Raphael, a Humboldt County author
who wrote "Cash Crop," a sociological analysis of Northern California's pot
industry. "Nobody knows what will happen."
     Marijuana is widely considered the top cash crop in the Emerald Triangle
and ranks with tourism as one of the region's major industries, Raphael said.
     Prosecutors in the Emerald Triangle say they're not interested in going
after legitimately ill people growing their own pot. But they don't believe
Proposition 215 allows just anyone to produce medical marijuana.
     "Did (Proposition 215) in fact mean that Californians wanted a general
relaxing of marijuana laws?" asks Terry Farmer, Humboldt County's district
attorney. "If that's going to be true ... they need to say so. Right now, we
have to take them at their word."
     Jim Woods, a deputy district attorney in Trinity County, says the law
allows growing marijuana by patients or a caregiver, someone designated to
look after the patient's "housing, health or safety."
     "Some of us refer to it as the bedpan test," Woods says in regard to
defining a caregiver.
     Regardless, cannabis club organizers statewide are operating under the
assumption that they are caregivers  and San Francisco's Cannabis
Cultivator's Club has gotten a lower court judge in Oakland to back them up.
     With the recent raid of San Francisco's Flower Therapy pot club,
authorities show few signs of giving in. But even some state agencies admit
that the issue of growing medical marijuana is tricky. That includes the
California Department of Justice, which helps oversee the Campaign Against
Marijuana Planting, or CAMP.
     Each summer, teams of law enforcement officials descend upon the Emerald
Triangle in helicopters, ripping up marijuana plants. Last year, they
destroyed 94,000 plants statewide.
     But, asked if the state Department of Justice would consider leaving
B.E. Smith's pot alone, agency spokesman Michael Van Winkle hesitates.
     "What does that mean on a casetocase basis? I'm not sure we've had
enough cases to know," says Van Winkle. "But if it's a case that will be
prosecuted federally, then there's no Proposition 215 defense."
     More than anything, law enforcement officials say they don't want to see
a return to the violence that once plagued the Emerald Triangle. It's a
mentality that led one law enforcement official to describe Denny, where
Smith lives, "the most lawless town in America."
     "Fifteen years ago in the wild and woolly days, a lot of people were
growing pot and a lot of money was being made," says Humboldt County's
Farmer, who now calls enforcement of Northern California's pot industry
     But, as California marijuana regains attention, he can't help but worry.
     "This whole thing with 215 has brought it all back again," Farmer says.
"It's history repeating itself."
     Some wonder, for example, if a call to lower the price of marijuana for
patients might cause problems. Right now, marijuana sells for about $5,000 a
pound, a price that has long boosted a Northern California economy hurt by
the dwindling timber and fishing industries.
     Smith and other growers who have contracts with cannabis clubs statewide
say they'll sell it to them for as little as $500 a pound.
     "We don't get greedy up here," says Smith, who plans to grow 1,000
pounds of pot. "We just make a living."
     Raphael doesn't see the priceslashing causing any problems.
     "Marijuana growing is so decentralized, it lends itself to zero mob
activity," Raphael says. "...So if there is any pressure, it'd be very
idiosyncratic and done by a few raving individuals."
     In fact, he says most marijuana growers voted for Proposition 215. In
Honeydew, Calif., and northern Humboldt County  areas rife with pot farms
  nearly 80 percent of voters favored the measure.
     For his part, Smith says he decided to grow medical marijuana to ease
his conscience and to appease his wife, Mary, who says pot growing "is not
something a Christian would be involved in."
     "I'm sick of it," Mary says as she sits in the couple's twostory cabin.
"I've seen good people go to jail that were just trying to make a living and
live in the mountains."
     Smith smiles and takes a hit off a loosely rolled joint, a daily ritual
he says converts him from "a John Wayne to a Timothy Leary."
     Despite his habit, this skinny mountain man still intends to be sheriff
one day. But, for now, there's someone else he's set his sights on: a
wellknown Detroit doctor.
"Call me instead of Dr. K," Smith says, tipping his trademark black cowboy

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