Marijuana and Cannabis News
|Santa Rosa Press Democrat|
|Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman: "We are, of course, supportive of legitimate medical marijuana here."|
Tell me what company you keep and I'll tell you what you are.
~ Miguel de Cervantes, "Don Quixote de la Mancha Part II" (1615)
Northern California Correspondent
Conventional wisdom for anyone living north of Santa Rosa is that marijuana is an integral component of California's economy. In the beginning, growers were tolerated by the locals as misfits of society who had migrated north to avoid the world of straight jobs and or had fled to Mendo with the 'back to the county' movement to grow their organic beans and fruit.
Venerable local institutions such as the timber and fishing industries were leery of the young freaks with their torn jeans and rusting VW vans. Their fears were soon justified when that first generation found that there were endless acres of hidden land stashed in them there hills.
If a guy could find a secluded patch in the hills that was close to water and had sun, he had the makings of his first clandestine start-up. The Timber giants viewed the encroaching growers as threats to their land, their water, and to the political dominance that they held in NorCal since the mid-19th century.
By the 1980s, the marijuana industry was entrenched and blooming, much to the chagrin of local law enforcement and community leaders. These former lazy rejects were driving new trucks, sending their kids to school, and buying their veggies at Safeway just like everyone else.
Thirty years later it is estimated that cannabis industry generates around 13 billion dollars in annual sales. And that's what is available to count. The timber industry is now a hollow trunk of its former self. The salmon and other fish populations have been so drastically depleted in the last few decades that fishermen can't rely on their yield from season to season. Many fishing boats on the coast have gone belly up.
|Mendocino County (in red), along with Humboldt and Trinity, makes up the Emerald Triangle|
While these formerly thriving industries in Mendocino and Humboldt scale back, local residents are having difficulty finding jobs that will support their families. Imagine the impact on Detroit if the auto industry hadn't received its bailout. That could have possibly been Northern California without marijuana.
In the last five years the growers in the three counties that make up the Emerald Triangle, Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity, have been able to make a legitimate living because the counties chose to regulate marijuana instead of creating a war. The influx of cash that came from providing product to the medical marijuana dispensaries not only provided a light at the end of the forest for the growers, but, as with the auto industry, the tertiary markets began to thrive.
Dusty buildings and tiny strip malls in Willits, Hopland and Ukiah that had lay vacant after the economic downturn of 2007-2008 were being replaced with successful garden centers and irrigation equipment suppliers.
Under George W. Bush, medical marijuana in California found its roots and was beginning to take hold. The Emerald Triangle was experiencing an unspoken moratorium on busting growers. In turn, the three counties had more legitimate cash flow at their disposal than any time in recent history.
The growers became part of a three-pronged arrangement in what is called 'a loop system.' The medical marijuana dispensaries could contract a grower for his or her crop, sign papers, the grower then worked under the umbrella of the dispensary. The patient came to a dispensary for their medicine; the dispensary provided the medicine that the grower delivered.
|An agent with Operation Full Court Press destroys marijuana plants, July 2011|
Unlike the previous generation of isolated, tight-lipped cultivators, today's grower was part of a network that was totally legal and above board in the eyes of the State of California. For a moment it looked like there was détente between growers and cops while a more thorough resolution could be found until the fall of 2011.
In 2011 the Federal Government launched an attack on Northern California called: Operation Full Court Press (OFCP). The stated goal behind OFCP was to find and eradicate illegal or possible Mexican gangs or cartels that were powering major industrial grows in the national forests of Northern California.
While the Feds say that their efforts were successful, the locals point out a different perspective. OFCP was a large scale undertaking with many federal officers branching out in all directions in Mendocino County.
What they saw was a budding, extremely transparent cannabis community. They were able to see, first-hand for themselves, what was going on in NorCal, and declared unequivocally that medical marijuana was "a sham." Apparently two-story billboards along the freeways and highways glorifying the benefits of the cannabis additives, "Bloom Grow" and "Kush King Formula One," are not as prevalent back east as they are along the dusty brown grassy knolls of our 101 North.
At the tail end of 2011, after OFCP, the Feds returned with a vengeance to Northern Cali with a to-do list of persons whom they felt were flaunting their liberties a little too openly. The Feds pulled the rug out from under the locals who, up to that point, felt free to provide product directly and indirectly to Medical Marijuana patients.
The DEA and other federal agencies harassed law-abiding medical marijuana dispensaries and collectives indiscriminately, as if on a whim. Suddenly, what was considered business as usual, for many over the prior three years, came to a halt.
Today growers and farmers are once again suspicious of law enforcement. The tentative bridges that were built with the local cops have been torn down and confusion about who to trust prevails. In the middle of all this is Mendocino County's Sheriff Tom Allman. Interestingly, my first introduction to the sheriff of Mendocino County came through these aforementioned, so-called, outlaws of the region.
|The Pot Republic|
|Mendocino Sheriff Tom Allman|
When I initially began reporting about California's number one cash crop, it was in Tom Allman's backyard where I did most of my research. This eventually led to stories, anecdotes, and flashes from the front dealing with the struggles or achievements of the local marijuana farmer. Invariably the name of Tom Allman came up during my interviews and reports on stories of local interest.
To my surprise many of the players who I came in contact with would say the same thing to me. If they ever had to turn themselves in to a cop, the only cop who they would trust is Tom Allman. On several occasions, the Sheriff has been called during off-hours to meet up with a deputy because a cornered suspect will only turn themselves in to Allman.
It was Tom Allman's involvement in lengthy debates between the Mendocino growers and the District Attorney's office that led to the legendary 9.31 program which provided a manageable and scalable solution to the cannabis issue.
Allman's resume is stellar. He was the temporary top cop in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, organizing a network of out-of-state police. At the end of the nineties the Sheriff was part of a global team that led and trained an international police force in Kosovo until order could be restored by local constables.
He could be a larger than life American media hero with the right public relations support. For now, he chooses not to go down that road.
I posed one last question to Tom as I ended our third interview: "Are you going to run for president?"
He is one of the best politicians I've ever met. He's smart, funny, and may have one of the hardest jobs in the cop world. He's stuck between societies' growing acceptance of marijuana and the civic leaders who are content to let him take the fall for the marijuana problem. When he does something good, they take credit.
From the Feds he gets that he's too soft on pot. From the voters who put him into office, he's not doing enough. And to the ganjateers, the growers, those who are in favor of legalization, and the believers that Mendocino could do for weed like its neighbor, Napa Valley did for wine; he's holding back a potential gazillion dollar enterprise that could turn the Golden State around financially.
Beyond that he encounters the same rising challenges with crime and budget cuts as his fellow law enforcers. This includes dealing with a heavy meth problem, weekly spousal shootings and DUI's to go, all taking place over a blindingly forested countryside almost the size of Rhode Island.
In my opinion, Sheriff Tom Allman, having to answer to the Feds, the voters, marijuana growers, and the general Kmart-going citizenry of his jurisdiction on any given day, might send your average cop into a tizzy. Not Tom Allman. He's generally humorous, thoughtful, and not afraid to be painfully direct if needed, while still maintaining his composure.
Tom Allman brings a thoughtful understanding to an ever-changing job that has earned him respect in both worlds.
Exclusive Interview: Humboldt County Sheriff Tom Allman
Operation Full Court Press-The Aftermath
Rikess: Let's pick up where we last left off, Operation Full Court Press.
Sheriff: Let's go! It was a huge success!
Rikess: Let me ask the questions please. (Pause.) Was it a huge success?
Sheriff: It was a success on several plains. It was, if you are just looking for numbers, it was a success. 57,000 lbs. of garbage was brought out. 152 arrests were made. 17% of those were illegal immigrants from Mexico. Thousands and thousands of marijuana plants taken out.
However...that's certainly not how you judge a success. How I judge success is...
The fact that six rural sheriff's offices... six rural sheriff's offices came together with one goal in mind and that is, 'We are either going to sink or swim, seeing if we can coordinate our efforts and see if we can make a difference.'
There are a lot of things that have come out of Full Court Press which are both good and very disturbing. I will start with the good.
I have the three sheriff's to the east all telling me that they have had zero activity of people transporting irrigation and hydroponic stuff up to the Mendocino National Forest. Normally you would say, "Hooray! Let's have a toast to that."
On the other hand, I have people in Covelo saying that this year; they've seen more traffic than any other year.
I shake my head and say, "Wait a minute, this is Mendocino National Forest. Don't growers know that Mendocino County came up with Operation Full Court Press? Don't they know that we were the ones pushing for the arrests, that we were the ones pushing for the success?"
Now we are seeing an influx of people who are growing full-bore on the western face of the Mendo National Forest?
So now, where I thought this year we were going to be able to focus on trespass grows on timber tracks, we are going to have to take away some of that energy and focus on the Mendocino National Forest again. When you and I first met three years ago, I told you that we had five enforcement objectives. Do you remember those?
Sheriff: We have had five enforcement objectives... for two years. This year we have a sixth. When I tell you the sixth you will understand.
When I say enforcement objectives...I am looking at marijuana eradication - the eradication of illegal marijuana as a business plan.
|Ganja Farmer's Emerald Triangle News|
|Pot patch in Mendocino National Forest|
Not a business plan to create income for the Sheriff's office, that's not it at all. But how am I going to gauge success? Donald Trump gauges success for every million dollars that he puts in the bank. Good for him. That is not how I am going to gauge my success in my life.
If someone said to me, "Tom, we have fewer marijuana growers in the Mendocino National Forest than ever before on the Mendocino side, that is success for me. Let me talk about our five enforcement objectives.
The first four are very obvious. (Well, the last four.) This is the only one we will really disagree on. [First] I say, go after large commercial marijuana operation, but that begs for someone to ask me to define what a large commercial marijuana operation is? Some might say its 100 plants; some might say its 1000 plants.
Rikess: I am sorry, not to push you but what would you define it as.
Sheriff: I am saying that we look at each year on an individual basis. And we certainly know what this year is looking at. This year a large operation is going to be between 300-500 plants. I hope I am correct when I say this...but we've seen the last of 15,000-plant grows.
Since I have been the sheriff we have had 15,000-plant grows. We haven't had one for a while.
I have told the deputies that instead of you saying, "You know what, that guy has always been growing marijuana, and I am going to go after him. I am going to get a search warrant and take 30 plants."
I said, "He's been getting away with it for a long time but so is the guy who is smarter than him. He's been getting away with 400 plants. So I want you to go after the guy with 400 plants."
It doesn't take any longer to write a search warrant for 400 plants as it does for 30 plants. So the business plan to the deputies is, "I want you to go after the greedy people. Those are the ones who are truly abusing our county." So THOSE are the ones that are the large, commercial growers.
Now when I talk about the other four [kinds of illegal grows or gardens we're pursuing] it's very possible that they are going to be tied into large commercial growers.
Next are public lands. We have to remind the citizens, that even though Proposition 215 is alive and well in California, there's no public land where you can grow. None.
You cannot say, "I have a doctor's recommendation and I am going to the national forest to grow marijuana." The public lands do not allow for the growth of marijuana.
The next is large, timber tracks - large parcels where we have trespass grows. Trespass grows, this is what history has shows us...what happens in a trespass grow... First of all for those who don't know - timber, for the most part is not being harvested out of Mendocino County. It is part of our economy. It's an important part of our economy. The price of fir right now is the same price it was in 1970.
Two more [types of illegal grows we're going after are] - environmental degradation. If we can see it from the air, we are going to land there.
Rikess: That has to be hard to see from the air.
Sheriff: No it is NOT! I am not kidding, when I tell you this. It makes me sick to my stomach when I see this. This was several years ago...this guy with a dozer had taken the tops off of two mountains and fill in the valley. You know what! May you rot in hell! There is a special place in hell for them.
This is number five; illegal water diversion or water theft. This is the sex appeal that juries love.
If you go tell a jury of twelve people, "This guy grew 100 plants."
The jury is going to fall asleep. (Acting like a bored jurist.) "Okay, he grew 100 plants," (ho hum.)
If you say, 'This guy grew 100 plants and he was illegally sucking water out of the Eel River using a 3-inch water pipe." They say, "What?! You can't do that!" We say, "Hooray!" We've got their attention.
The last is obvious. I don't use the C-word - cartel - I use the term organized crime.
If we have an indication that organized crime has set up a grow. They have brought in a low-level grunt to do it... that is important to me. Because if we allow that one garden to be successful this year, then that one garden is going to be two gardens next year and four gardens the year after. That's where I'm focused on. That's my business plan.
Well, let me tell you what those six things say. Those six things are so important because if you talk to any legitimate medical marijuana grower, he's going to agree with you. If you talk to any legislator in Sacramento, he or she is going to agree with you. We have found commonality, worked it into a business plan.
We are out here increasing our numbers, decreasing the complaints. We don't have near the complaints from citizens that we used to [like], "How come you took my weed?"
Because we are not taking Ma and Pa Kettle's weed [anymore]. We are truly focused on the people who want to make their million bucks in one year.
Rikess: Operation Full Court Press happened. It's my understanding that the Feds came in here and said, "Marijuana is a sham in Northern California. It's a joke. What these guys are doing is pulling the wool over our eyes and we are going to come back here. We are going to show them who are the boss. And they came back here and they did exactly that...
Sheriff: They went after one garden and we have...
Rikess: No. They went through the state. They're in Long Beach yesterday. They're constantly, every day, they swoop in dispensaries. Legal, law abiding dispensaries.
|News Junkie Post|
Sheriff: And I am going to go right back to what I said. The law is so ambiguous that 215 should have been corrected by the voters to talk about dispensaries, to talk about consistent laws that people could possess and that's one of our...
Rikess: So, the Feds came in, "it's a sham, it's a joke...We're going to stop this." My point is that it pushed us back.
Sheriff: I agreed when I said we took a step backward. That's Matt Cohen -
Rikess: Not just Matt Cohen, I mean up and down...
Sheriff: In my county I had Matt Cohen. What dispensaries were closed in Mendocino County? I didn't see that list? Oh wait! There were none...
Rikess: Where is Potter Valley?
Sheriff: In my county, Mendocino. It might have been a cooperative, it wasn't a dispensary.
Rikess: I'll get back to you on that one. But be that as it may, the Feds are pushing the growers back to a Black Market economy. Do you think we should just bide our time and see where it's going? Where is the solution?
Sheriff: Well, let's start with what you call the black market, and I call illegal diversion.
Rikess: It is my understanding after the Feds came through with Operation Full Court Press, that there were vast amounts of garbage left behind from either deserted or busted grows. When they came to eradicate...
Sheriff: That we left garbage? We didn't remove all of the garbage that the growers had. But we didn't leave anything.
Rikess: I'm not saying that you brought in anything...
Sheriff: Yes, absolutely. It's not like a crime scene where we have to get in there and clean up.
Rikess: Why not? Seriously? We both want to reclaim the forest. Now someone is walking through the forest and they have come upon desolation row.
Sheriff: That is a really fair question.
Rikess: When are the Feds going to come in and do something like that...?
Sheriff: Like what?
Rikess: Clean up our forest...Shouldn't it be a turnkey operation?
Sheriff: In a perfect world. Snow White would have them do that. However let's be very basic about this. The 57,000 pounds of garbage that was removed represents approximately 60 percent of the gardens we went into. We made sure that all fertilizer or poisons were removed from all grows. We made sure that the infrastructure of long term grows, and when I say infrastructure, I mean buried water lines that would run to latrines or kitchens or places where they clean their laundry...
|Bureau of Land Management|
|Officials prepare to gather garbage at a clandestine marijuana growing operation|
Yes, they had underground two-inch pipes going into these things that they used year after year. Those were removed. The garbage from... the living garbage...from...the empty cans of food, the wet clothes, the sleeping bags, the tents, the human feces, that garbage... While we would have loved to have cleaned it up. The volunteer effort from the Sierra Trail Club is somewhat limited - they were in there hustling.
What we have this year going is a 501(c) 3 Foundation here in the county called, 'The Mendocino Public Safety Foundation.' They have raised a lot of money to pay the sheriff's office; we are now sending law enforcement deputies with these volunteers. Last week we did 60 hours of garbage cleaning in Covelo. We sent deputies to provide security for them while they do the cleanup. So yes, I agree, I wish we would have cleaned it up more.
However, of the money that we spent last year, 40 percent of it was spent towards clean-up and trying to reclaim the land. Only 60 percent was spent toward eradication.
Rikess: Let's be clear. I know you differentiate between growers. You obviously do. Operation Full Court Press in its real nature was supposed to go after what was going on in the [National] forest, which in a sense meant organized crime, Mexican disorganized crime, cartels, and things like that.
I know for a fact that your local growers here would have assisted you, Tom Allman, and pointed out in our forests [where the Mexican gangs are growing.] They would work with you. Is that correct?
Sheriff: They have worked, and some of them have been some of our largest contributors.
Rikess: Yes, so we want to differentiate Operation Full Court Press and the Feds coming down on marijuana...
Sheriff: It's night and day, Jack.
Rikess: But it doesn't feel like night and day to the grower of Mendocino County. They feel lumped in with what's happening...
Sheriff: Well, it would...Let me tell you this. We had a 99-plant grow. Literally, a mile from the landing pad in Covelo. Every helicopter that carried law enforcement officers had to fly over this 99-plant grow daily. These helicopters were maybe only 200feet off the ground at that point because they were approaching the heliport and I think that the fact -
Rikess: For the people at home - this is a legal grow.
Sheriff: This is a legal grow. So for growers to say, "Oh, my gosh! They brought in all this attention. They have gone after all these people who are growing."
I am here to say, really? Because I could take you to the place in Covelo where 200 cops flew over [a grow] every day and no one touched it.
Rikess: Didn't touch it. But there is a great consensus of opinion, and I will just use that as a point, there were other examples, but by them flying over the 99-plant grow every day, it just ate at them. It killed them.
Sheriff: Why was my money this year from the Feds cut and reduced?
Rikess: Tough times.
Sheriff: Why were the dollars...Okay, I guess they are looking at their priorities the correct way.
Rikess: But they found money for CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting.)
Sheriff: No, they didn't.
Rikess: Yes, they did.
Sheriff: Well, instead of six helicopters, the state has three.
Sheriff: HOLD ON! Let me finish, and instead of three weeks, I'll have less than two. A week and a half, so we certainly don't see that the Feds were that concern. If we can continue to supply money to South Korea and Japan, I would hope that we could...
...Because Jack, as many people who say marijuana is innocent. [That] marijuana is not the scourge on society. I may agree with some of them but I will tell you. There are bad people involved in some marijuana grows.
The kind of people who would just as soon throw nuclear waste down into one of our valleys... Bad, bad people who don't care about Mendocino County or the people who live here...
Sheriff Allman's Reality Show
Rikess: Let's get to my favorite. Pot County USA. That's going to be the name of your reality TV show. Tell me about that.
Sheriff: No it isn't.
Rikess: Are you really going to have a reality TV show?
Sheriff: Well, it's not the Tom Allman show. When we sat down with the producers, I said this over and over...
Rikess: [speaks directly into the microphone] THE SHERIFF HAS GOTTEN VERY SERIOUS.
|Pie N Politics|
Sheriff: We were at my other office. We were at the other table that you sat at, and I said 20 times in this one meeting. "This reality show cannot be about Tom Allman."
Will I have some cute anecdotes and clever phrases, of course I will? If I could develop my own reality show, it would be boring as hell. But what it would be is...a genuine effort to show that not everyone in Mendocino County is trying to put in marijuana. So we don't have it on the front page. But that doesn't sell advertisement.
Rikess: Would it be like the Appalachian Mountains and you guys looking for stills?
Sheriff: It would be if some sheriff in Jackson County, North Carolina said, (Sheriff's speaking with southern accent.) "Listen, Ah want to sit down with those still boys and those moonshiners. Ah want to see if we can make this legitimate so we can get some taxes coming into our poor people." Now we are talking.
Rikess: Would you do that?
Sheriff: If we had a think tank - marijuana think tank in Mendocino County. I believe we would have the brightest and best. We wouldn't have extremists either way. I don't want extremists. I want a think tank to say, alright, this is our problem. Home invasions, if home invasions are our problems? What possible solutions could we come up with? Well, let's stop advertising all the major raids. Freedom of the press reigns but...I'm just thinking out loud now. Well, let's increase the punishment for home invasion. Let's publicize when people get sentenced. We just had a guy sentenced to 85 years for doing home invasions.
|Dr. William Courtney, noted cannabis researcher and CBD and CBN specialist|
What I am saying is a think tank - I believe the perfect reality show - would be one that would go to [noted CBD and CBN specialist] Dr. William Courtney. I would say, "Bill, give us your poster child case of a situation where marijuana really improved the quality of life for somebody." And he would say, "Here is a 12-year-old boy with whatever and we are giving him synthesized or vaporized marijuana. It's allowing him to walk and talk."
And the people at home are going to go, "Whoa, this is good!" And we would go to a commercial break. Then we come back from break, we would see some guy who is taking a friggin' D8 and bulldoze the side of a mountain so he could make a million bucks.
Rikess: That might be a great advertisement for people not to come here thinking they could get rich quick.
Sheriff: We have been talking about that all week! Citizens say, "Why do you have a TV show?" And I say because I want to present the other side of marijuana. CNBC's Marijuana Inc. did more to ruin our county than any other show I can think of. People were saying, "Hey! Let's go to Mendocino County and get rich!" No. Now come to Mendocino County and we will take you to jail. But we are not going to go after low hanging fruit.
Rikess: Do you have an agent?
Sheriff: No. That's funny. No one has asked me that! That's funny!
Sheriff Allman On Having Fun
Rikess: So, when we talked previously about you growing up in Garberville, and how you never smoked marijuana, my question to you is what kind of music do you listen to?
Sheriff: Well, you'd think, that's an interesting question...You'd think as a cop I listen to country/western and I certainly do listen to Top 40 Country. I like the new artists that are coming out because they have some good, original music but I also like symphonic and big bands...
Rikess: Like Harry James or...?
Sheriff: On my way home, after a long day. A stressful day. Today is not a stressful day. If it is a stressful day I will listen to Jazz on the way home.
Rikess: Like who?
Sheriff: Well, I don't really know we have a station here... Here's something you don't know - can you keep a straight face?
Sheriff: I play tuba in a polka band.
Sheriff: You liar! I can't believe you lied to my face!
Rikess: It's not so much that you play the tuba, it's the visual...
Sheriff: Humor is the unexpected. You promised me you wouldn't laugh.
Rikess: This begs the second question - can you tuba and march?
Sheriff: Well, I was in a marching band for years and years. I march every year (except for this year because our band leader couldn't get it together) in a 4th of July parade.
Rikess: I am from St. Paul, MN and I happen to know the greatest polka players - the Mrozinski Brothers.
Sheriff: Oh yeah! The Mrozinski Brothers! They're great!
Rikess: If you ever get to St. Paul and you need a gig, if this thing doesn't work out for you for any reason. If you need a night job, you give me a call and I am going to put you into the polka band of your dreams!
Sheriff: Polka music's really fun because you know; you cannot play polka music without drinking beer.
Rikess: It's fun!
Sheriff: Monday night's, I get 2 hours out of my life where no one asks me a single marijuana or budgetary question. Where this trombone player to my left looks at me like, "That's a sharp, why didn't you play a flat?" Because he is a retired Army Sergeant trombone player and I look at him and I say, "I don't know, you got me!"' Last week we just electrified our instruments...We are now wireless.
Rikess: You went Dylan! You went electric.
Sheriff: Yes, so we tuba electric. We have a 4 piece brass band. People wonder why we don't have an accordion. We are American cultural music you know, we'll hit all the patriotic songs, all the military songs and people like hearing that stuff.
Rikess: Do you practice? Do you sit at home (makes tuba sound...)
Sheriff: Yes, but if my wife is at home, I can't. She won't put up with tuba practice.