Feature: Mendocino Marijuana Battle Waits for Election Results, Restrictive Initiative Draws Strong Opposition

Eight years ago, voters in Northern California's Mendocino County passed the groundbreaking Measure G, which allowed people to grow up to 25 marijuana plants for medical or personal use and directed local law enforcement authorities to make marijuana offenses their lowest enforcement priority. Since then, the already well-established Mendocino cultivation community has exploded, and with the size of the crop estimated to be somewhere between $500 million and $1.6 billion a year, marijuana is now the backbone of the local economy.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/marijuana-harvest.jpg
outdoor marijuana harvest in California (from NDIC via usdoj.gov)
But with the boom have come problems, and now the backlash. Some of it is purely ingrained cultural opposition to marijuana, but other Mendocino residents have complained of environmental damage from commercial grows, diversion of water supplies, trash in the forests, neighboring backyards with valuable crops that attract thieves and armed robbers, the smell of growing marijuana wafting into schools and homes, and the disturbing of rural tranquility by pot-enriched ne'er-do-wells roaring around back roads in their high-dollar SUVs.

Last week, Mendocino residents went to the polls to vote on a measure that would undo Measure G and set cultivation limits at six plants, as mandated by state law. (That portion of the law was recently declared unconstitutional by a state appeals court; see our coverage here.) Known as Measure B, the initiative had the support of most of the county Board of Supervisors and the rest of the political establishment and prominent local media, and polling suggested it would easily pass.

But despite media reports on election night that the measure had passed by a margin of 52% to 48%, the election is by no means over. Nearly 11,000 hand-delivered absentee ballots, or about 38% of the total vote, have not yet been counted. The county has until the end of the month to count them and certify the election, although the final results could be announced any day.

Opponents of Measure B think that they will prevail when all the votes are counted. Supporters of Measure B say the same.

"The margin right now is only 710 votes, and we think we will win in the end," said Laura Hamburg, spokesperson for the insurgent movement to defeat the initiative known as the No on Measure B Coalition.

"One reason for optimism is that those last minute ballots are coming from people who were very concerned about making sure the registrar got their votes, and we have been stirring those people to get out and vote. The second reason is geography. The county seat of Ukiah is more conservative, but the outlying areas of the county have been much more liberal and sympathetic to mom and pop personal and medical use. These rural areas are where the hand-delivered absentee ballots are coming from."

"There are a lot of conservative voters who take voting seriously and don't trust the Post Office and want to hand deliver their votes," argued Ross Liberty, spokesman for Yes on Mendocino County Measure B Coalition. "And our strongest district is District 1, which is where most of the uncounted votes are coming from. This is still doable," he said, while conceding that some of his allies consider his prediction of a 60%-40% win "overly optimistic." Still, said Liberty, his team all agrees they are odds on favorites to win.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dalegieringer.jpg
Dale Gieringer (courtesy pot-tv.net)
"No matter what the final outcome, this is a moral victory for us," said Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML, which opposes Measure B. "We were opposed by the board of supervisors, city councils, the sheriff, the DA, the monied civic groups, and the leading local media. We had the deck stacked against us, we were supposed to lose, but this has turned into a really close contest," he said.

Liberty said he was not opposed to medical marijuana or even recreational marijuana use, but that the situation in Mendocino County was intolerable. "I'm a libertarian," he said. "I would think I'd died and gone to heaven if federal marijuana prohibition were lifted, but I don't want Mendocino to be the only place doing it. These people aren't growing despite it being illegal, but because it's illegal. They're growing and dealing because its illegal and has a federal price support program."

Liberty said he was not personally impacted by marijuana growing -- although he complained about "the trained helplessness that dependence on federal marijuana prohibition brings to our community" -- but that other supporters of repeal were. "People who live near me grow, and it doesn't bother me, but there are quite a few people who can't stand the smell of it -- it really reeks in the summer -- and it can make their lives miserable," he said.

"It's also dangerous because it's worth so much money," Liberty continued. "One lady I know, within a hundred yards of her house, there's collectively a million-dollar marijuana crop in her neighbors' back yards. You have people with guns going through yards just following their noses looking for marijuana to steal. How do you let you kids out to play when that's going on?"

Liberty mentioned yet another problem, too. "I've had people grow on my property without my permission," he said. "It's not medical marijuana, it's just dope growers and outlaws." But, Liberty said, that incident predated Prop. 215.

Measure B doesn't address the real problems created by commercial growing, said opponents. "This initiative isn't aimed at the problems created by the large commercial grows -- the growing on public land, the environmental damage -- but at the people growing fewer than 25 plants," said Gieringer. "They're cracking down on the small growers, not the commercial growers. With even our opponents conceding it shouldn't be illegal, we should be about dealing with the problems associated with those big grows, and Measure B doesn't do that," he said.

"We've seen an increase in criminal profiteering with commercial grows and growing on federal land, so there was a backlash from that," Hamburg acknowledged. "People started feeling like the energy was different, they saw all this profiteering. We're in our fourth decade of marijuana farming here, and we do it well, it is one of the glues that holds this county together, but there had never been any public venting of tensions about these changes," she said. "People wanted to DO SOMETHING, and many of them initially supported Measure B, but that has been changing as they really think about what it means," she said.

"This measure targets the wrong people," argued Hamburg. "If you want to address marijuana, why turn on the community? Why don't we see instead how we can thwart those big commercial grows? Mom and pop growers are community-minded people; if they are compensated by the dispensaries, they report their income. They're proud of being organic gardeners. We think we should put resources and energy into fighting crime, not backyard grows, and that's what's been happening."

Indeed, with the election of a new sheriff and district attorney in late 2006, marijuana law enforcement has come down harder, and asset forfeiture numbers are rising through the roof -- up from $100,000 in 2005 to $1.6 million last year -- but it's not the illegal large national forest grows being targeted, said Hamburg.

"When the sheriff goes after those big commercial grows, all they typically find is some guys living in tents in the woods -- there are no assets to seize," she noted. "We're very concerned that they are targeting smaller growers. Don't turn on law-abiding citizens who are part of the fabric of this community," she pleaded. "Don't turn us into criminals. We don't want to be felons for growing one plant for personal use or seven for medical."

It wouldn't just be mass criminalization that Mendocino would have to worry about if Measure B passes, it could be economic recession. Marijuana is by far the most important economic activity in the county, and Liberty freely admits that victory could lead to hard times, or, as he put it, "a period of adjustment."

"To the extent that we move the needle, we will have to adjust from an economy dependent on federal prohibition to one that is driven by the free market," he said. "Now, you don't see regular jobs coexisting with this marijuana economy. Basic industry jobs that must be globally competitive cannot compete with the wages driven by the price support program we know as federal prohibition."

Whatever the final election result, the Mendocino marijuana wars are far from over. And proponents of a more open system of regulated growth and sales are feeling emboldened. "After we came back in this campaign, we have a lot of bargaining strength," said Gieringer. "We expect to make some really forward-looking proposals for regulating the industry in Mendocino and moving closer to a legally regulated market that makes money for the county and keeps the criminals and fringe element at bay."

Stay tuned.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Emmet C's picture

Federal Price Support Program

Good meme!

pathetic outdoor grow

That photo is one of the most pathetic outdoor pot grows I've ever seen, obviously not grown by a real marijuana farmer!

borden's picture

early harvest

I think it was a grow that got harvested early out of fear of it getting raided.

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC
http://stopthedrugwar.org

Leave them alone.It grows

Leave them alone.It grows naturally u can't fight it.

NORML

I don't get Gieringer's teaser: "We expect to make some really forward-looking proposals...". Why doesn't he just outline some of initiatives under discussion?

Free people don't live according to political & judicial winds!

I'm all for ending illegal marijuana prohibition, including using deadly force against dumb evil assholes, that seek to kill or incarcerate those that dare to disagree with religious & governmental lunacy & immorality.

As a libertarian I am not supportive of the prevailing tax & regulate strategy favored by the social liberals.

I am, however, highly in favor of incarcerating, or killing if they resist, and seizing the assets of criminal prohibitionists to help pay for the millions of pending civil rights law suits and massive war restitution.

Pot is not a truth serum!

The fact that the outcome of Measure B is close is not a "moral victory" for the opponents. It is immoral. The opponents of Measure B lied at every turn about what Measure B is and what it would do.

They repeatedly claimed that it was a return to prohibition and the intended targets were sick people who would be thrown in prison for trying to get the medicine they need.

In reality, all Measure B seeks to do is to get in line with the state guidelines so that Mendocino County is not a target for every wannabe commercial grower in the United States and beyond.

California has the most liberal allowance for medical marijuana of anywhere in the country and Mendocino County has the most liberal allowance of any county in the state.

Measure B is anti commercial production, not anti medical marijuana.

Moral...immoral..

Cannabis use is not immoral. If there is a moral issue involved, it is the immorality of the ONDCP/DEA prohibition of "some" substances.If there is a "truth serum",it should be forced upon the ONDCP.Six plants,Twenty plants, one ounce, one hundred ounces, potent,more potent,WHATEVER! We are talking about plants/flowers, not nuclear reactors.RE-LEGALIZE and improve.

keep the pressure on!

PROHIBITION never works it just CAUSES CRIME & VIOLENCE. Illegal drugs are way easier for kids to get than legal ones. The USA spends $69 billion a year on the drug war, builds 900 new prison beds and hires 150 more correction officers every two weeks, arrests someone on a drug charge every 17 seconds, jails more people than any nation and has killed over 100,000 citizens because of the drug war. In 1914 when ALL DRUGS WERE LEGAL 1.3% of our population was addicted to drugs, today 1.3% of our population is STILL ADDICTED TO DRUGS. The only way to control drugs is to REGULATE THEM AND END THE PROFITS AVAILABLE TO CRIMINALS just like ending alcohol prohibition did. There’s only been one drug success story in history, tobacco, THE MOST DEADLY and one of the MOST ADDICTIVE drugs. Almost half the users quit because of REGULATION, ACCURATE INFORMATION AND MEDICAL TREATMENT. No one went to jail and no one got killed. JOIN EMAIL LIST, WATCH VIDEOS:
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keep it illegal

prohibition is needed in tough economical times. Keeps money in my pocket

we are free

this industry could bring in lots of profit to the state. marijuana should be legalized and tax. it would bring in millions of dollars. we need to stop sending people to jail for none violent pot crimes. we spend so much on sending people to jail for just growing marijuana than thay sit in jail and we have to pay for there fucking food water and all the new jails. i think if it was legalized it would help the state and it would mace a new industry to bring in millions to or government . that is in billions of dollars in the hole this could help get us out of the hole

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