As one of the original counties formed when California was granted statehood back in 1850, Mendocino County is known for its picturesque northern Californian coastline, its majestic redwood forests, and of course, its weed production.
Home to a short-lived, county-regulated, cannabis cultivation program for nearly two years, Mendocino now finds itself stuck between the citizens who willingly signed up for the program, and the federal government who is seeking to acquire all of their personal information for reasons unknown.
Still, despite the pressure being applied by the invasive federal investigation, people of all types continue to flock to the region to try to stake their claim in the growing green rush. The census taken in 2010 shows that over 87,000 people live in Mendocino County, and according to Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force Commander Rich Russell, at least half of the total population of the county is working in the weed industry in some way.
To be clear, he didn’t say “half of adults”, he said half of the population. Growers, trimmers, breeders, sellers, middle-men, and everyone else tangentially involved in making a living off of marijuana make up at least 50% of the county’s populace, according to Russell’s estimates. Well over 40,000 people feeding, and being fed by, the green economy, and the numbers, like the plants, are growing quickly.
“I could stay busy just following around souped-up trucks with 19-year-olds driving them,” Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force Commander Rich “You Better List My Full Title” Russell told the Ukiah Daily Journal when trying to describe the cash-driven culture taking over his turf.
Russell points to market saturation in northern California, which he says has driven prices of trimmed, dried, bud down to $1,200-$2,000 per pound. While these may sound like relatively standard bulk wholesale prices for dispensaries ad collectives to expect to pay in California, Russell contends that not just local Mendo growers, but the shops themselves, are just fronts for shipping the majority of the weed out of state.
“There’s tons of marijuana moving out of this county, “states Russell bluntly. “100 pounds of bud is commonly known as a ‘box’,” he adds.
While nobody would deny the fact that weed probably does get shipped out of the county, experts in the region estimate that besides employing half of the population, marijuana fuels roughly one-third of the local economy. The local Sheriff’s office banked a cool $600,000 in 22 months by regulating the local growers in a plan that was working seamlessly until the Feds busted it up. It has gotten to the point to where one local Sheriff was quoted as saying that the only two businesses in Mendocino County are “government and weed”.
So, when Supreme Commander of the Universe Rich Russell says, “It was twice as bad this year as last year, and the commercial gardens are twice as many”, you need to ask yourself:
“Is it ‘bad’ to fuel 40%, or 50% or 60% of the economy? Is it ‘bad’ to pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into local law enforcement to help them fight actual crime?”
But perhaps his best quote was, “We used to work methamphetamine and heroin (cases) a lot more, and now we’re finding that there’s always marijuana associated with it. It’s a year-round job, and it just doesn’t slow down.”
Marijuana gets enough unjust association on the federal level on the schedule of Controlled Substances, but more revealing is Mr. Russell’s pulling back of the curtain to show us all that the Great & Powerful Machine of Prohibition is really just a few remaining old men, clinging to their archaic careers and self-sewn awards.