Interview: Legendary Marijuana Activist Pebbles Trippet


Photo: Fred Sternkof
Pebbles Trippet is a quiet hero in Mendo. She’s over 70 and works every day for the cause.

When Mendocino Medical Marijuana Advisory Board member Pebbles Trippet’s car breaks down on the way to an activist meeting, she hitchhikes — and she never says anything to anyone about needing a ride home. She goes way back in the scene and has been there, according to locals, for almost every cannabis event “since the whole thing started.” Toke of the Town‘s own Jack Rikess recently had the honor of chatting with Pebbles on our behalf. ~ Editor
By Jack Rikess

Toke of the Town

Northern California Correspondent

Even when she’s preachy and almost bullying and dogmatic in her principles, there is something so exquisitely human about Pebbles Trippet, that you’ve just got to love her.
For many outside the Mendocino area Ms. Pebbles Trippet, the consummate steady-Eddy patients’ rights activist, may be an unknown commodity, but I’m sure you’re familiar with the laws that she’s impacted and personally changed. 
California Senate Bill 420 expanded and redefined Proposition 215 and gave another face to medical marijuana by allowing collective associations of patients to grow for their own memberships. Prop. 215 allowed for the right to grow, possess, obtain and use cannabis for medicinal purposes.
What you couldn’t do with cannabis was transport it. Yeah, go figure.

Pebbles was arrested in the early 1990s for transporting cannabis for personal medical use and to share with appreciative folks who understood early on the medical properties of the herb, including leaf for the poor. This bust and few more like it would begin a legal battle that would test Pebbles’ resolve and stamina for the next 10 years. [Editor’s note: Remember before 1996, the State didn’t recognize those in need of medicinal marijuana as being patients.

Photo: The Mendocino Beacon
District Attorney Norm Vroman (right) speaks to Medical Marijuana Advisory Board members and the audience while moderator Pebbles Trippet looks on.

While others enjoyed Grunge, Playstation, Seinfeld, Pebbles would spend the decade fighting archaic laws that refused to budge even when the logic of her appeals was irrefutable. The bust in 1990 and nine others in five counties would keep Pebbles busy legally for the next decade, draining her emotionally and financially.
But she continued working in the underground railroad of medicinal marijuana. 
“During this period, at times I felt isolated and beaten down by the losses in every county, despite Dr. Mikuriya’s courageous testimony in court on my behalf before the law changed (1990-96). They beat me up; I bounced back, determined to do my part, using constitutional protections and common law medical necessity. I knew if I lost in the lower courts, I’d have a chance to set precedent in the higher courts. I treated losing as a weird advantage.”
Pebbles ended up doing some two years in lockup in various county clinks throughout Northern California as her trials and tribulations on the transportation charges dragged on. 

Graphic: Ralf Laguna

Arguing that her constitutional rights were being violated, Pebbles thought she was on the right track. “Bringing in constitutional rights back then for cannabis was like…talking in a foreign language. Prevailing wisdom argues that marijuana laws are unconstitutional for lack of medical access. To my lawyers, that had no bearing in modern law. They wanted to get me off on technicalities or loopholes. They didn’t want to change the laws the way I did. In fact for the most part, my lawyers wanted the opposite from what I was trying to do. Lawyers want to suppress. I wanted to reveal.”
“It was such a weird time,” Pebbles remembers that period with a small laugh.” My attorney’s name was Stoner, so he and I made Herb Caen’s column for having funny names. No one took us seriously back then. But the truth was my lawyer argued my case based narrowly defined old English common law that my use of cannabis was deemed a medical necessity. That without it I would die. That wasn’t true and it wasn’t the case I wanted to bring forward. I wanted my case to be argued on the merits of what was described in 215. The right to use cannabis medicinally.”
What happened?
“I fired my lawyer and represented myself, with some vital assistance from a few key people.” True to her ways, she learned, she accepted, refocused her litigation and won her case. Leaving the constitutional rights argument behind her, she questioned that if you had the right to use and cultivate marijuana; how are you supposed to carry it?
She introduced the logical argument that you must be able to carry with you, or transport, what you can legally possess, like other medicine. If logic dictates, if you hold/possess medical marijuana legitimately, you must be able to carry it and that means transportation. Transportation was added alongside cultivation and possession as an “implicit right.”

Graphic: Chris Conrad

Because of Pebbles, there is a “Trippet Standard.” Google it for the ruling in full. When there is a law named after you, you know you’ve affected policy.
As a founding member of Mendocino Medical Marijuana Advisory Board (MMMAB), Pebbles influence is palatable. While setting her sights on the 2012 California Initiative, Pebbles is on board with the rolling ganja train for the upcoming election but is adherent to the principle that the patient comes first.  
“The real question is how one can grow without restricting the rights of patients while enhancing access,” Pebbles states nonchalantly.
“For the 2010 election, Richard Lee and others didn’t consult with Mendocino and Humboldt Counties about the wording of the initiative. In my opinion, the rural growers and small Emerald Triangle collectives represent a majority of qualified patients in the country but are not considered part of the culture of the Bay Area activists.”
Why’s that?

Photo: Carole Brodsky/West Coast Leaf
Pebbles is a member of the Mendo Medical Marijuana Advisory Board.

“We represent a minority opinion in their view. We are a producing county; Proposition 19’s main focus was on representing the distributor counties’ agenda leaving out production as part of the equation.”
Can you elaborate?
 “The Bay Area with all those dispensaries is what we call a distribution county. Some counties grow tomatoes and some counties sell them. Each county has different interests. Our interest here is on production. Richard and others, let’s just say they are trying to be Industry Builders at the expense of small growers. I’m for the Moms and Pops.”
Right now in Emerald Triangle area, there are many different factions working on their own agendas, trying to progress a cloudy law into something more unifying and consistent for the state of California.
“What is the standard?” Pebbles wonders reasonably.
“I mean, where are we headed? To big grows, only? Right now  in Mendo with a doctor’s recommendation for marijuana, a patient can grow up to twenty-five plants per parcel, if a collective or a cooperative wants to grow up to 99 plants per parcel, this requires a permit costing $8,000 from the Sheriff’s Office.”
That seems easy enough. What’s the problem?
“Our laws should be about the individual patient’s medical need, how to “enhance access”. The issue is not profit, it is access–how to get cannabis medicines–tinctures, topical, salves, CBD-rich juices-to the patients in the greatest need with limited land we’re allowed to grow on.” 
For example…

Photo: Vice

“The restrictions are making it harder for medical users to grow even on their own land. Most patients cannot afford the price of a 99-plant grow permit or the inspection process. Because of the nature of partnerships up here, usually two or more co-own the land to make it affordable. Mom and Pop, a collective of friends. The growing of cannabis is based on land parcel, not patient use. I contend that we should be able to grow based on what our use is, in terms of the number of patients involved, not how much land is available.” 
“While some up here are working with law enforcement, assisting in developing the 99-plant permitted grow [the local ordinance known as 9.31], most of us do not qualify for that program. Actually right now, only a few growers out of the majority can comply with the water, electricity and land restrictions. So we’re talking about a whole lot of folks who can’t do their thing.”
For many outside of California, I’ll bet they loved to grow twenty-five plants or have the chance.
“Look at it this way. Patients are growing their own medicine so they can get access under the law without government getting in the way. Isn’t this how this whole thing started?” Pebbles says matter-of-factly. 
“So in order to be legal, a patient who doesn’t have the land to grow on or physically can’t grow and isn’t a member of a handful of collectives that is permitted for a 99-plant garden, can join another collective that can only grow 25 plants per parcel. Now Farmer Smith has joined with nine other like-minded people with doctor’s approvals. Still all legal. At 25 plants per parcel for 10 people, that’s 2.5 plants each.”
Pebbles allows me to absorb the information like a medium waiting for the right moment or better yet, like a lawyer in summation. 
“Now let’s say at the end of the season, mold and rip-offs hit the garden and you have ten plants left standing for ten people. Now in about two month’s time, these ten patients need to start the process over looking for their medicine. Does that make sense medicinally? This shows that collectives are discriminated against in the parcel approach, with less access than an individual patient who can grow up to 25 plants.”

Pebbles addresses the 2008 NORML Convention Pot and Politics Panel

What do you want and when do you want it?
“I think all patients should be able to grow as much medicine for themselves and their collectives as they need, as long as there is no redistribution outside the closed-loop membership association. People need their medicine. The question is not whether to regulate, but how to regulate. Can you imagine a restriction on aspirin? We need standards. In the beginning, we were allowed to grow six mature plants. That didn’t make much sense and was thrown out in Kelly [California Supreme Court decision, People v. Kelly] as the patient standard. A 25-plant per parcel limit is the same…arbitrary and discriminatory. It just doesn’t work for most of the growers up here.” 
What about the future? Where do you see the movement going?
“With regards to the permitted grows, Mendocino Medical Marijuana Board (MMMAB) originally proposed an independent inspection by the Health Department instead of local law enforcement doing the paperwork check-ups (or at least a third party inspector as a witness in the garden). There’s a huge difference between a cop checking your garden and a guy with a clipboard in khaki shorts and a Kate Wolf t-shirt taking notes. Also another restriction we raised was that gardens not be visible from the road. That makes sense. That is how we can all get along. But the complaints over the smell or “stench” that these gardens produce, I say, get used to it. The pheromones and the terpenes are an integral biological part of the medicine. It’s like growing up near stockyards or in Tacoma. It is the aroma of agriculture and change.”
Then the purr of Pebbles’ doctrine kicks in.
“There’s so much that needs to be done for the patient. I first came to this area in the Seventies during the ‘Back to the Land’ movement. Many of us hippie kids went north and submerge ourselves in all things Mendo — country living, reverence for the ocean and Earth, live-and-let-live way of life. I learned a lot in my first go around here. I got by cleaning hotel rooms, waitressing and the usual stuff young kids do to get by.
But I only rented during this time.
“I knew that if I ever came back, I’d have to own my land. That’s the only way to do it right up here. Land is everything. So in terms of medicinal marijuana, I have to turn the perception around that it’s not about the land, but the patients’ rights and needs. One of my major complaints is that medical marijuana is handled by the Sheriff’s Department. It should be directed and enforced by the Health Department. That’s who is in charge of medical marijuana in other counties. It is a medical matter involving doctor-patient confidentiality… What other Health Department matters do the police handle on a daily basis? Complaints and violations, I understand. But putting law enforcement in charge of medical marijuana regulations? I don’t think so. It is no longer a crime. If you want people to come out of the shadows, having law enforcements agents acting as the proxy might not be the best foot forward.
“Then you have the so-called nuisance problems that the Sheriff’s Department does enforce. Nuisance infractions can be a broken fence lock, hole in the fence, too many plants, odor and many more imaginative transgressions. Once you’ve been cited, your fines can go up to a hundred dollars a day. Then a hearing date can be up to 30 days out. Do the math. A single deputy’s complaint can cost you thousands for a hole in the fence. This doesn’t make it easier for patients to come forward with their needs. As long as you’re not selling it for a profit and getting it to the real patients that need it. You should be able to grow as much as is needed.”
Pebbles pauses and sums up.
“When you really think about it, it is our constitutional right to grow cannabis if we need it for medicine. Plain and simple. The real issue is medical freedom. This is basic constitutional law, like religious freedom. This is about not having to go without. Deprivation of medicine is violation of due process. If a patient needs cannabis as a medicine, who has the right to deny or restrict access to that medicine, especially in light of state laws calling for ‘Enhanced access through collective cultivation?’
“Medicine should not be about restrictions but access and enhancement of life.
“But medical choice wasn’t granted explicit status in the Constitution and is thus having a very hard birth. [Then you have] unreasonable searches and seizure of medicine… unequal protection…Decades of prohibition and war against a benign herb. As Willie Nelson says, ‘Marijuana is an herb and a flower. If God put it here and wants it to grow, what gives the government the right to say that God is wrong?’ 
“All we want is to grow our own medicine safely and legally, as much as we, the patients, legitimately need to for our medical condition. Is that too complicated or too simple?”
She never quits. You’ve got to love Pebbles.

Photo: Jack Rikess
Toke of the Town correspondent Jack Rikess blogs from the Haight in San Francisco.

Jack Rikess, a former stand-up comic, writes a regular column most directly found at

Jack delivers real-time coverage following the cannabis community, focusing on politics and culture.

His beat includes San Francisco, the Bay Area and Mendocino-Humboldt counties.

He has been quoted by the national media and is known for his unique view with thoughtful, insightful perspective.