|Mendocino County Rethinks Marijuana Regulation|
Posted by CN Staff on April 27, 2008 at 05:16:31 PT|
By Mike Geniella, The Press Democrat
Source: Press Democrat
Ukiah, CA -- Laura Hamburg, medical marijuana advocate and daughter of a former congressman, grimaces when she recalls the day she was arrested for growing pot in Mendocino County, long considered one of the most tolerant places for marijuana in the nation.
"Feelings of shame, embarrassment and humiliation overwhelmed me," said Hamburg. Anger soon set in.
Hamburg felt she had followed the letter of the law in a county that eight years ago, with 58 percent in favor, adopted some of the country's most relaxed rules for growing pot for personal use.
But sheriff's deputies who raided Hamburg's marijuana garden last fall claimed they found an excessive number of plants and about 50 pounds of processed pot. Although all criminal charges against Hamburg were later dropped, her case fueled community concerns that local pot production is out of control.
Ukiah businessman Ross Liberty, leading the campaign to repeal current county guidelines in the June 3 primary, said in 2000 he was among voters who supported the current laissez faire pot policies.
"At the time I thought, 'what's the big deal?'"
But since then, he said, surging marijuana production, an influx of outsiders and a perception that violent, pot-related crimes are increasing have changed his mind. "I think many of us realize now it was a big mistake," Liberty said.
For four decades, marijuana has been widely cultivated, used and sold in Mendocino, providing a source of unprecedented wealth in an otherwise poor, rural region.
Even by conservative estimates of a $500 million annual cash crop, marijuana's value dwarfs by at least a 3-1 margin the combined income of wood products, premium wine grapes and all other legitimate agricultural production.
Mendocino's "mom-and-pop" marijuana scene began to change after Proposition 215 - the landmark medical marijuana initiative - passed statewide in 1996. Subsequent state legislation protected individuals from prosecution if they had a physician's recommendation for marijuana for medical use, and if the amounts in their possessions were within local guidelines.
In 2000, Mendocino voters took it a step further by becoming the first in the nation to locally legalize marijuana for personal use. Rules under "Measure G" allow 25 plants per person rather than the state standard of six plants. The rules remain in place even though marijuana use and production remains illegal under federal law.
Today, the Mendocino measure is viewed by many local law enforcement officials, educators, community leaders and leading physicians as a failed experiment. They believe it wrongly put out the welcome mat to pot growers under the guise of medical marijuana.
Many residents, however, view medical marijuana as essential to their way of life and argue that repeal of Measure G would only make it easier to subject local patients to arrest and felony prosecution while doing nothing to address the problem of large-scale commercial operations. Repeal only assures a reduction in allowable pot plants, and offers law enforcement no additional ammunition against large-scale commercial marijuana operations.
Hamburg's arrest is one of a string of high-profile cases that have helped stir a public backlash. The latest occurred six days ago when a veteran Ukiah High School teacher and a friend were accused of commercially cultivating marijuana in a converted rental storage unit.
Dr. Robert Werra, a respected retired Ukiah Valley physician, believes current county guidelines should be repealed because they've become a "front for rampant commercial growing."
Willits City Councilwoman Karen Oslund said widespread marijuana cultivation has altered the character of her small town of 5,000.
"I see residences in our town taking on the look of fortresses, with tall fences and intimidating dogs, and realize this is not the town I decided to raise my children in 15 years ago," said Oslund in a statement of support for the repeal effort, Measure B.
Measure B is being debated at forums around the county, including at a recent luncheon in Hopland that attracted county business leaders, top law enforcement officials, political candidates and longtime residents.
Hamburg faced a crowd that was decidely pro-Measure B, but she tenaciously made her argument that the June initiative is a knee-jerk reaction to otherwise legitimate concerns.
To some groans, Hamburg said Measure B, if passed, will be a step backward.
"There's nothing in Measure B that will help law enforcement rid the county of big-time, outside commercial growers, criminals who are the real sources of the problems we face," said Hamburg.
Hamburg, a sister, and a neighbor had medical marijuana identification cards to grow a garden at her home, located on the property of former Rep. Dan Hamburg, D-Ukiah, and wife, Carrie, a cancer patient. Deputies said more than 75 plants were found, but Hamburg's attorney said only 39 existed.
Hamburg decided to head up the opposition campaign after she was cleared of her criminal marijuana charges.
"I thought it was the responsible thing to do. I don't want any other medical marijuana user to experience what I did," said Hamburg.
The opposition's argument on the ballot was framed by Hamburg's mother, county Supervisor David Colfax, folk musician Ronnie Gilbert, and civil rights attorney Susan B. Jordan.
The signers acknowledge widespread community anxiety, but they too argue that Measure B is not the answer.
"Mendocino County sorely needs to regulate large-scale gardens and to attack illicit grows and commercial trafficking. Measure B is a bogus diversion that does neither," according to their statement.
At debates, Laura Hamburg recites local crime statistics compiled by the sheriff's department, figures that show fewer than 1 percent of the 43,500 calls made in 2007 to the dispatch center involved marijuana-related crimes.
But statistics also show that since 2000 the number of marijuana plants seized by local and state authorities has soared in Mendocino County, as it has statewide and in the neighboring counties of Sonoma, Lake and Humboldt.
About 332,000 pot plants were chopped down last year in Mendocino County, nearly 100,000 more plants than the year before. In Lake County the total was 489,000 plants, the most anywhere in the state. Humboldt posted a 271,000 plant total; Sonoma trailed with 138,000.
Law enforcement authorities said the spike in pot seizures primarily is a reflection of its growth as a commercial industry. State authorities estimate that the seizure figures represent less than 20 percent of marijuana being grown.
If Measure B is approved, Hamburg said, she fears local growers will suffer at the expense of big-time operators who are behind the pot explosion.
"All it does is set the stage for more local small-time medical marijuana users like me to get arrested."
Sheriff Tom Allman has declined to take a stand on Measure B, choosing to make methamphetamine-related drug crimes his priority.
New District Attorney Meredith Lintott is supporting Measure B, saying she believes the repeal measure could bring clarity to marijuana prosecution efforts.
Despite its marijuana notoriety, Mendocino is not the only county to allow more pot plants to be grown than state standards.
Sonoma County, where there's an estimated 3,000 medical marijuana users, allows an individual to grow up to 30 plants. Fifteen other counties allow more than the state standard.
"We're not all that unique despite the uproar," said Hamburg.
Hamburg a few years ago led a successful voter drive to ban genetically modified foods in Mendocino County, another national first.
She believes marijuana should be legalized and turned locally into a premium, organically grown product that could generate millions of dollars in new tax revenue.
"Look what the wine industry has done for our county," said Hamburg.
But the recent felony arrests of high school teacher Jeff Burrell and friend Steve Laino on marijuana growing charges has left local residents wondering if the string of high-profile criminal cases will ever end.
Burrell has said he is innocent, but whatever the outcome of his case, some people believe it's yet another example of how pervasive marijuana has become in the county.
Fundamentally, marijuana use is a social issue that affects the entire community, said Ukiah High School Principal Dennis Willeford.
In a talk to school trustees about marijuana's role in the county, Willeford said that its widespread use and general acceptance of marijuana presents "a unique challenge to this area."
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
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|Comment #2 posted by afterburner on April 27, 2008 at 21:14:16 PT|
|"But the recent felony arrests of high school teacher Jeff Burrell and friend Steve Laino on marijuana growing charges has left local residents wondering if the string of high-profile criminal cases will ever end.|
"Burrell has said he is innocent, but whatever the outcome of his case, some people believe it's yet another example of how pervasive marijuana has become in the county."
'Some people' do not think. If Burrell is guilty, it might be an example of marijuana pervasiveness. If Burrell is innocent, it is not an example of anything!
Prohibition rewards Big Crime, Big Pharma, and Big Prison. If you want a safe community, regulate cannabis as a legitimate business with age limits, quality control, licensing, accounting and tax paying. Let competition drive down the price and stop interfering with the free market with irrational obsessive laws.
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|Comment #1 posted by Sam Adams on April 27, 2008 at 10:12:10 PT|
|"Hamburg felt she had followed the letter of the law in a county that eight years ago, with 58 percent in favor, adopted some of the country's most relaxed rules for growing pot for personal use.|
But sheriff's deputies who raided Hamburg's marijuana garden last fall claimed they found an excessive number of plants and about 50 pounds of processed pot. Although all criminal charges against Hamburg were later dropped, her case fueled community concerns that local pot production is out of control."
The media always quotes rhetoric on the seedy association between MJ growing and crime. But look at this woman - not once do they say, "This woman was busted and she'd totally peaceful, has never hurt anyone or been arrested, never violent, pays taxes, volunteers, etc".
I haven't seen any solid evidence of small and medium scale growers ruining this county. Just a lot of hot air and armed, uniformed thugs raiding and looting honest taxpayers.
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