Up from the Underground: Marijuana in 2009
From the editor:
The year 2009 may someday be remembered as the year California started to seriously tackle one of its biggest challenges: what to do about marijuana.
Living in the Emerald Triangle, as we do here in Mendocino County, marijuana cultivation and sales (whether legal or illegal) touches us all in one way or another.
This year we have seen a financially strapped state looking at marijuana seriously as a cash crop. Not only has Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's legislation to legalize and tax pot gotten serious attention, but nationwide there's a new discussion emerging about marijuana. The Obama administration this week told its prosecutors not to spend their efforts going after legitimate medical marijuana users. That instruction may turn out to be the first step toward a state's rights attitude that would allow not only California but any other state to embrace medical marijuana legalization, and perhaps complete decriminalization of pot everywhere.
Also, the California Supreme Court may well make a decision before the end of the year on whether regulating medical marijuana (with plant limits, for instance) is constitutional. That decision alone will make a huge difference in the future of marijuana growing for communities like ours.
Here in Mendocino County, we have been living with marijuana for decades. We have been in the forefront of many marijuana experiments, from virtual legalization, to zip ties.
In the next four days, The Daily Journal will present a snapshot of our county's marijuana industry in 2009.
We will look into the influence of this not-so-underground industry from the eyes of the growers, the justice system, the business community and the outside world.
Because whatever road the future of marijuana takes, Mendocino County will undoubtedly continue to be a major thoroughfare on the map.
Community perception: MJ a menace or a boon?
Community perception: MJ a menace or a boon?
While most agree marijuana is part of life in Mendocino County, the community is divided about whether marijuana should be legalized, and whether it's a problem or a boon for the county.
"This is a living, breathing situation," Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said. "Nobody has the answers today, because the answer today is not going to be the answer tomorrow. We all have to be ready to adjust to the situation going forward, because change could happen at any time."
Allman was speaking in a general way, but alluding to the pending People vs. Kelly decision. If the lawsuit prevails, it would render Senate Bill 420 unconstitutional and void on the basis that it unlawfully amended Proposition 215, also called the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, without a vote of the people.
For now, law enforcement and attorneys use SB 420 as a guideline: a medical marijuana patient is allowed to have six mature or 12 immature plants and eight ounces of processed marijuana. Proposition 215 didn't specify the amounts a patient could have, but said it's legal for someone to use marijuana at a doctor's recommendation.
"It's a tragedy that we've let it get as far as it has," said John Mayfield, a businessman and co-founder of the Mendocino Employer's Council. He spoke as an individual, not for the council.
"Employing people and watching what happens to them: they can't function when they're impaired, they can't operate heavy equipment, they can't pass a drug test most of the time. They are impaired as a good employee," Mayfield said.
Legalizing legislator says the time has come
He called pot a "gateway drug" to harder drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine.
Legalization, he said, would only exacerbate the situation.
Hillel Posner, a Ukiah High School woodshop teacher, has a divided view of the subject.
"I want to support non-legalization so that we can keep profiting from it, but none of that mitigates the fact that kids shouldn't be using drugs," Posner said.
He says there's been a slight shift in recent years, with fewer teens getting high.
The ones who do use marijuana, he noted, "can make a pipe, but they can't pass my class."
"I don't see it," Ukiah resident Gabriela Jimenez said of marijuana as it affects her daily life. But she offered a personal story to illustrate why she's against legalizing marijuana.
"One of my best friends has a lot of talent for music and dumped everything because they got into marijuana," she said. "Drugs, no matter what it is, even if it's a cigarette, it's bad."
She believes some people who claim to use marijuana as a medicine are "taking advantage."
Ukiah resident Marie Langley said "I think it should be legal, because then we wouldn't have to have the police out there, and we wouldn't have the Mexican cartel."
Most people interviewed at random by The Journal were happy to share their views, but didn't want to be identified. Most who answered compared marijuana's effects to those of tobacco or alcohol; some compared the 1937 prohibition of the plant to alcohol prohibition.
"It's safer to use than alcohol," said a local therapist who didn't want to be identified. "But it can be overused, like any substance ... I've seen so much more damage done by alcohol, and that's legal."
She added that the plant is culturally viewed in a skewed, negative light, and that it should be legalized.
"Nobody gets stoned and then goes out and kicks somebody's ass," said a Lake County marijuana patient who works in Mendocino County, and who also didn't want to be identified. "If you're altered while you're driving, though, that's a DUI just like with alcohol."
She added, "It should be legalized and taxed. You can't tell me regular incomes are what's keeping Lake and Mendocino counties together right now."
One man, a former Mendocino County resident, said he provides full-time care for his wife, including growing her medical marijuana. He said his neighbors are understanding, and he sticks to the legal amount and doesn't share or sell it.
"I think it should be decriminalized," he said, adding that marijuana shouldn't be available to minors.
A local banker said she thinks marijuana is a problem for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the effect on her work.
"A man in his late 20s or early 30s came in with his friend ... and they were definitely stoned. He couldn't even conduct his transaction; all he could do was giggle," she said, adding that she could smell marijuana on some of her customers' money and on their breath.
Part of the broader problem, she said, is that the plants also use large amounts of water and "we're already in a water shortage."
She questioned whether taxing marijuana would solve the problem.
"I think it should be legalized," a San Rafael resident who works in Mendocino County said. "It's no more harmful than any other drug, like alcohol."
"Any time you have an illegal substance in the community, that itself creates crime, shooting and raids," an anonymous business owner said.
"At least it's a natural thing, and it doesn't have harsh chemicals," a county resident said. "It should be legalized, because a lot of people are doing it, regardless. Tobacco has chemicals; marijuana does not."
Bob Nishiyama, commander of the Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force, thinks legalizing marijuana would cause a 20- or 30-year surge in its use, similar to the end of alcohol prohibition.
Tiffany Revelle can be reached at email@example.com, or at 468-3523.
"Whooo-hoo!" was Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's reaction when the Obama Justice Department this week said the federal government would no longer prosecute legitimate medical marijuana patients and their suppliers.
Ammiano, a Democrat from San Francisco, is the author of AB 390, which would legalize the growing and selling of marijuana for anyone over 21 in the state of California and is also aimed at generating billions in taxes as a result.
In an interview on Tuesday, Ammiano said his legislation's chances are "very good."
"Right now we have a perfect storm of political will, federal changes in attitude as well - and the economic picture, of course, has a bearing on all this," he said.
Ammiano calls the legalization of marijuana "inevitable" through either legislation or popular initiative, "and one does not exclude the other, by the way."
For Ammiano, decriminalizing marijuana is a public policy issue, but he understands that others see it as either an economic issue or simply a need to end marijuana's role in "the war on drugs and what a miserable failure that's been."
"People want a fresh start," he said. "There's a national conversation happening. I think what we're going to see is decriminalization and taxation."
And, he notes, with the Obama Justice Department statements this week, legalization steps closer to a state's rights issue.
That could likely mean the federal government would not interfere with the decisions of any state with regard to marijuana.
Ammiano has six years eligibility left in the Assembly before he is termed out and says he's ready to keep at it to the end. But he thinks things will change sooner than that.
"With the Baby Boomers and young people you see the shift," he said. Meanwhile, conservatives and others who traditionally oppose legalizing marijuana "are seeing their fire houses close down or their schools in need" and are rethinking the issue.
"This is an opportunity that cannot be lost and I don't think it will be," he said.
K.C. Meadows can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 468-3526.
Mendo grown is top of the line
Mendocino County's marijuana - legal or illegal - is considered by the experts as some of the best in the world, which is one reason why it sells so well and why our county is a magnet for growers.
"There's been a long tradition back to the '60s - generation after generation," said Danny Danko, the pen name of the senior cultivation editor of High Times magazine.
Danko said he believes that there is also a "higher quality of connoisseur-ship" and people who really know how to grow marijuana, handing down and refining good strains year after year over decades.
Danko says that's really what defines the Emerald Triangle - Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties - not any soil or weather conditions that are particularly good here.
People are growing more and more marijuana all over the state but, says Danko, "Mendocino has that lore" of being among the earliest California counties to allow marijauna growing to thrive.
Danko would place Mendocino County marijuana in the top three worldwide.
Danko, who comes to Mendocino County a couple times a year and was just in town this fall to shoot a DVD for High Times on the 2009 crop, says he believes marijuana is a huge part of the economy here, something anyone walking into town can see from the abundance of grow shops and hydroponics outlets.
Also, he says, "the local town's electric company needs armored cars to pick up all the cash" generated by indoor grows.
On his latest visit, Danko said he was picking up on some tension - what he called "a low level war" - between indoor and outdoor growers over indoor growers' use of generators and the reports of environmental damage caused by some growing operations. The outdoor growers generally consider themselves as more natural, many of them growing organic marijuana which gets full sun and is fed with compost teas - conditions Danko said are optimum for high quality marijuana.
Strains from this area are often simply named after the town they were grown in; Ukiah, Laytonville, Willits are three that come to mind, Danko said.
"Mendocino' is just shorthand for good," he said, adding that this area is also getting a reputation for organic growing and strains that burn particularly smoothly.
The 2009 harvest appears to be bigger than ever, Danko said, mostly because people are no longer having to hide their plants if they are adhering to cultivation rules and are able to grow more in full sun.
And this area's marijuana is abundant. Danko said a decent marijuana plant grown "lovingly" in full sun in this county should produce five to 10 pounds of marijuana.
As for legalization, which High Times and Danko promote, having full-scale marijuana growing up and down the state is not likely to change Mendocino County's high quality branding success, mainly because we've been at it so long.
"They're going to be known for their pot - legal or not," he said.
K.C. Meadows can be reached at email@example.com, or at 468-3526.
Milestones in the history of marijuana
In 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed in the U.S., and the Food and Drug Administration was formed. This was the first time drugs had any government oversight.
California passed the first state marijuana law in 1913. Other state anti-marijuana laws were passed in Utah in 1915, in Texas in 1919, Louisiana in 1924 and New York in 1927.
The federal government gave control of illegal drugs to the Treasury Department, which created the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Harry J. Anslinger became the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930.
On Oct. 2, 1937, President Roosevelt signed the Marijuana Tax Law. The law made it illegal to possess marijuana in the U.S. without a special tax stamp issued by the U.S. Treasury Department. In theory, growing and selling marijuana was still legal as long as you bought the government tax stamp for $1. However, the Treasury Department did not issue any tax stamps for marijuana, effectively making growing, selling and possessing marijuana illegal under the act.
On the very day the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act was passed, the FBI and Denver police raided the Lexington Hotel and arrested two people: Samuel R. Caldwell and Moses Baca. Three days later, Caldwell, a 58-year-old unemployed laborer, became the first person in the U.S. to be convicted of selling marijuana without a tax stamp.
In 1951, Anslinger supported an amendment to the Harrison Narcotic Act, introduced by Sen. Hale Boggs, that would dramatically increase mandatory drug sentences.
The Narcotic Control Act of 1956 put marijuana in the same drug class as heroin and added more severe penalties.
By 1965, an estimated 1 million Americans had tried marijuana. By 1972, approximately 24 million Americans had tried marijuana.
In 1972, The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse released a report which would be the most comprehensive study on marijuana ever done. The commission took the position that smoking marijuana in one's own home should not be criminalized.
In 1972, all of the government's existing drug agencies were combined into one super-agency, the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Although Canada became the first country in the world to legalize medical marijuana in 2003, California passed Proposition 215, the first U.S. medical marijuana law, in 1996.
On May, 18, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a dispute over California's medical marijuana law. Opponents of California's Compassionate Use Act argue that the law undermines federal drug laws. Last year, a California appeals court ruled that the state's medical marijuana law does not supersede federal drug laws.
The conversation gets going
Seeing in Cannavision
When there's earth, air, water, fire,
So many different flowers,
Sunshine and rains showers,
That's how I know God is real.
~ Song lyrics by India.Arie
© Gold And Iron Publishing; Wb Music Corp.
India.Arie, African-American songwriter and musician, is singing to her fans at an outdoor summer concert. The crowd is a polyglot mixture - wizened hippie crones, tipsy college boys, multi-ethnic couples with sleeping infants on their backs, political activists in organic cotton shirts, skinny-jeaned teens with day-glow hair and put-together professionals in running shoes and Dockers.
Arie sings a question to her mother and backup singers: How do you know that God is real? Thousands listen with rapt attention. Each singer offers a soulful, improvised response. For every 10 people in the audience, half are close to tears, or openly weeping.
The song and the crowd's overwhelming display of emotion are the stuff of Sunday sermons, with one distinct difference. As the music lifts on the breeze, so too does the unmistakable fragrance of marijuana. Joints are shared and pipes lit - without anyone evidencing the slightest hint of guilt or apprehension.
The briefest examination of cannabis in America reveals recurring, unresolved issues that vigorously inform today's marijuana debate. In the late 1800s, marijuana was medicine - included in many over-the-counter remedies.
In 1910, Mexican immigrants introduced "recreational marijuana" to the United States. By the Depression, cannabis was re-branded from medicine to "marihuana menace" by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, whose powerful media soapbox attributed promiscuity and violent crime to marijuana smoking .
In 1937, Congress approved a hefty excise tax on cannabis and industrial hemp. The taxation of hemp is thought by some historians to be the underlying reason for criminalization.
Hearst and the DuPont corporation had massive economic interests in the timber industry and would have suffered financial ruin if hemp became industrialized. At the time, Popular Mechanics claimed, "10,000 acres devoted to hemp will produce as much paper as 40,000 acres of average (forest) pulp land."
In the mid 1940s, extensive research challenged Hearst's claims that marijuana led to insanity or escalating drug use. Cannabis controversy is not new - and every subsequent push to criminalize or legalize has been met with forceful opposition from both sides.
In Mendocino County, everyone involved with the marijuana industry - law enforcement, patients, growers and entrepreneurs - grapples with these same historical issues. The debate over the legality of and medically sanctioned applications for cannabis rages on, spilling into a court system forced to render judgment utilizing laws and guidelines fraught with conflict and ambiguity.
Immigration issues are as contentious as ever. In a 2006 interview, county law enforcement identifies Mexican crime families as the operators of 70 percent of Mendocino County pot farms - an enemy everyone can agree upon. But a recent Washington Post article argues that cartels have a bigger enemy - the thousands of small growers producing top grade cannabis. In just two decades, Mexico has lost more than half of its marijuana market to U.S. growers - many of them from Mendocino County.
In upcoming stories, members of the cannabis community - growers, medical marijuana patients, activists and entrepreneurs, will share their ideas. They are a fractious, passionate and erudite group - who despite their differences, will undoubtedly shape future cannabis culture - not only here, but throughout the country.
For India.Arie's audience and millions of Americans, cannabis is here to stay. Monday's Department of Justice memo clarifies the Attorney General's decision to focus DOJ resources on the prosecution of true drug traffickers and not to arrest those providing or using medical marijuana in accordance with state law. A Field Poll recently reported 56 percent of Californians supported legalization and taxation of marijuana as part of a solution to the state's budget crisis.
Because Mendocino County is one of the foremost marijuana-growing regions in the world, the world is watching this county. What happens in Mendo will not stay in Mendo, but will act as either a cautionary tale or an inspiration for other communities struggling with the social, political, legal, medical and spiritual significance of a sanctioned, sustainable cannabis culture.
Here's some of what's coming over the next four days:
Tim Blake, proprietor of Area 101, talks money, healing and the Mendocino Medical Marijuana Advisory Board.
Maria Brook, medical marijuana patient, discusses a patient's bill of rights and the need for product standards.
Matt Cohen, of the Northstone Organic Cooperative, describes his collective and his disagreement with the MMMAB.
Jim Hill states how a 2005 bust transformed him from patient to outspoken marijuana activist.
Bruce Perlowin, ex-smuggler dubbed "King of Pot" and current CEO of Medical Marijuana Inc., offers publicly traded stock and big plans for the marijuana industry.
Pebbles Trippet, co-founder of the MMMAB, describes decades on the front lines defending patients' rights.
Posted: Thursday October 22, 2009, 11:58 am
Paul S. (0)
Friday October 30, 2009, 12:58 pm
Having lived all through that 60's era smoking pot has caused me much legal misery. Yes, I paid my dues! Having had a triple by pass, stroke, Indarerectmy on both legs, femerol run-off, heart attack, etc, etc, high quality marijuana has properties that give me relief beyond belief moreso then any narcotic the VA gives me. So I buy pot illegal as medicine and risk a life sentence in prison for one day at a time comfort when I can afford to do so and chance losing what I get from the VA with a dirty urine. That's the choice a disabiled person on a very small fixed income has today!
male, age 73,
single, 4 children
Ukiah, CA, USA
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