Source: Los Angeles Times, May 25, 1997  2132374712

Trinity County Pot Farmer 'Comes Out of Closet' to Test New Law 

   Drugs: Voterpassed initiative permitting marijuana use for medicinal
purposes emboldens grower to take public stand. He tells Board of
Supervisors about his crop. 

By MARTHA IRVINE, Associated Press

DENNY, Calif.Just about everyone for miles around this
     Northern California town has known for years that B.E.
Smith was raising marijuana in the backwoods. 
     And if they didn't, they do now. 
     Smith brazenly announced that factand his intention to plant
more than an acre of marijuana for medical purposes by
midsummerto the somewhat bewildered Trinity County
supervisors in April. 
     "You could say I'm coming out of the closet," said a chuckling
Smith, a selfproclaimed freedom fighter and avid pot smoker who
has twice run for county sheriff. 
     In November, California voters legalized the cultivation and
possession of marijuana for medical use. And now, the 50yearold
pot farmer envisions the day when marijuana will be grown in
wideopen fields, "like hay" or any other legal cash crop. 
     "We could do for marijuana what Napa Valley has done for
wine," Smith said, standing on the small plot where he plans to grow
his crop. 
     Few growers are willing to speak as openly as Smith. But he's
not the only one who thinks medicinal marijuana will reshape the
"Emerald Triangle," the 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 are traded for groceries
or even a country doctor's advice. It is widely considered the
Emerald Triangle's top cash crop and ranks with tourism as one of
the region's major industries. 
     Proposition 215, as the marijuana referendum was known, gives
dope growers "a place to stand and walk from," a 26yearold
Eureka pot grower says. 
     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
     "It's a wideopen situation," said Ray Raphael, a Humboldt
County writer and the author of "Cash Crop," a sociological
analysis of Northern California's pot industry. "Nobody knows what
will happen." 
     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
medicinal marijuana. 
     Did Proposition 215 "in fact mean that Californians wanted a
general relaxing of marijuana laws?" asked 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, said the
law allows growing marijuana by patients or a caregiver, someone
designated to look after the patient's "housing, health or safety." 
     Regardless, cannabis club organizers statewide are operating
under the assumption that they are caregiversand San Francisco's
Cannabis Cultivator's Club has gotten a lower court judge in
Oakland to back them up. 
     With the recent federal raid on 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 medicinal 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 would the state Department of Justice consider leaving B.E.
Smith's pot alone? Agency spokesman Michael Van Winkle
     "What does that mean on a casetocase basis? I'm not sure
we've had enough cases to know," Van Winkle said. 
     More than anything, law enforcement officials say they don't
want to see a return to the violence that once plagued the Emerald
Triangle, which led one law enforcement official to describe Denny,
where Smith lives, as "the most lawless town in America." 
     Some wonder, for example, whether 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 will sell it to them for as little as $500 a
     "We don't get greedy up here," said Smith, who plans to grow
1,000 pounds of pot. "We just make a living." 
     Raphael doesn't see the priceslashing as causing any problems. 
     "Marijuana growing is so decentralized, it lends itself to zero
mob activity," he said. ". . . So if there is any pressure, it'd be very
idiosyncratic and done by a few raving individuals." 
     In fact, he said, most marijuana growers voted for Proposition
215. In Honeydew and northern Humboldt Countyareas rife with
pot farmsnearly 80% of voters favored the measure. 
     For his part, Smith said, he decided to grow medicinal marijuana
to ease his conscience and to appease his wife, Mary, who says
growing pot for recreational uses "is not something a Christian
would be involved in." 
     "I'm sick of it," Mary Smith said as she sat 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 smiled and took a hit off a loosely rolled joint, part of a
daily ritual that 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, he wants to offer pain reliefinstead
of an end to all pain, promised by a wellknown Michigan doctor. 
     "Call me instead of Dr. K," Smith said, tipping his black cowboy

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