Law enforcement

More Drug War Hysteria For The North Coast–Part 2

[This is an extension of the piece I wrote last night in response to Joe Mozingo’s piece in the L.A. Times titled “Pot farms wreaking havoc on Northern California environment”.

The pot biz in Humboldt was started by hundreds, then thousands, of independent individuals, on mostly self-owned small parcels, with varying degrees of counter-cultural and ecological values, looking to find an alternative relationship with nature and people, who used some of the money from their business to support an array of community institutions. Over time, North Coast marijuana production has grown into an industry made up of tens of thousands of growers, still mostly on their own parcels, in a very heterogenous mix of motivations, values and cultivation styles. While there is no clear newcomer-bad/oldtimer-good divide (despite what some want to portray), the new arrivals seem, from my observation, to be less likely to share the older homesteaders’ values.
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It’s different up here.

It’s different up here.

By Mikal Jakubal

Times have changed, no doubt. Last week, a member of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors and a sheriff’s sergeant testified in a Santa Rosa courtroom on behalf of two men charged with transporting pot through Sonoma County. The defendants are employees of Northstone Organics, a permitted medical marijuana collective in Mendocino County. Yes, you heard that right: the sergeant testified for the defendants. These two men were stopped on two consecutive days in what was a clear case of intentional surveillance. It’s unclear why Sonoma County law enforcement would prioritize intercepting an operation that is merely passing through Sonoma County en route to its Bay Area delivery route, nor why they’d intentionally provoke neighboring Mendocino County, throwing down a de facto challenge to the validity of Mendo’s medical pot permitting ordinance.

"Purple Diesel"—a little something to spice up an otherwise all-text post.

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Weed growers blow up busses and threaten to…”Um…what were we gonna do again?”

By Mikal Jakubal

Last Wednesday, as part of the Bureau Of Land Management’s Critical Infrastructure Crisis Response Exercise Program, authorities staged a mock terrorist attack on the Shasta Dam. According to an article in the Redding, California Record Searchlight, the exercise started with…

…two mock bomb blasts followed by the “Red Cell” terrorist group taking over the dam in an effort to free one of their fellow marijuana growers from prison. Holding three people hostage, they threatened to flood the Sacramento River by rolling open the drum gates atop the dam. Those gates hold back the nearly full lake.

Wait, marijuana growers as terrorists threatening to flood the Sacramento Valley? Whoever thought that one up was smoking something, but it wasn’t pot.

The all-day exercise involved 250 people from 20 agencies, took 18 months of planning and cost the BLM alone half a million dollars. Multi-agency drills are fairly common. They allow agencies with different jurisdictions and different, possibly conflicting agendas—such as local and federal law enforcement, fire fighters and ambulance crews—to practice working together efficiently on large incidents. All emergency response agencies, from local volunteer fire departments to FEMA, do these sorts of drills regularly.

Many commenters on various blogs have mistakenly assumed that the whole purpose of the training was driven by the highly-likely scenario of pot-grower terrorists, making it therefore a gross waste of resources. They’re mistakenly seeing the tail wagging the dog. Such training is necessary and valuable, with the specific mock disaster being irrelevant to the utility of the drill for the personnel involved.

Still, while this particular scenario is laughable on the face of it, you have to wonder why they picked pot growers. Imagine the (appropriate) outcry about racial stereotyping if the hypothetical attack had involved Muslim terrorists? Imagine the storms of protest if the mock terrorists had been modeled as Christian anti-abortion crusaders threatening to flood the valley to stop abortion clinics. How about Tea Partiers mad about…something or other? Don’t want to slap that hive! Native Americans mad about loss of their salmon and traditional lands? Nope, better to just keep that subject out of sight, out of mind. Communist terrorists? So last-century.

What surprises me most is that they didn’t use “ecoterrorists” as the boogeyman. It is especially odd, since Eric McDavid is now spending 20 years in prison for a bogus scheme after an FBI informant set him and a couple friends up in a conspiracy to blow up the Nimbus Dam on the American River near Sacramento. So, again, why pot growers?

All I can think of is that it is part of a Prop 19 backlash or a last-gasp of reefer-madness designed to further marginalize and demonize a group unlikely to garner any sympathy when portrayed in a ridiculously negative light. Or, maybe it was just a snap choice a couple planners thought up over beers one night. Opinions?

Local blogger Kym Kemp also reported on this, as did a blogger on the Washington Post

Bags of green buds found on Hwy 101

By Mikal Jakubal

I filmed the local Sheriff Sergeant today telling the story of a deputy stopping on Hwy 101 last night near Garberville to kick two large plastic trash bags off of the road. Turns out they were full of untrimmed pot. We walked over to the evidence room and opened them up for my camera. There were some decent sized buds, but most looked kind of scraggly, with lots of sticks. (I’ll try and post a screen shot later.)

I figured that someone must have been transporting it from a garden to their trim scene. Seems crazy to do that in a way that it would blow out of the truck.

A short while after the interview—by sheer coincidence, at 4:20pm—I got a follow up call from the Sergeant  telling me that the bags actually flew out of a Drug Task Force truck after a raid. He said, “it’s evidence and they want their dope back.”

Only in Garberville do you find bags of fresh weed on the road. Now, if I could just find a bag of money to help finish the film…

“Wow, look what the cop just gave me!”

By Mikal Jakubal

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Yet another story from the Hospice benefit. A story was making the rounds about how the Deputy who showed up with the pot plants strapped to his SUV had personally given someone a joint. Here’s an email I got about it from a friend who had originally told me the story:

I just heard from the person who was saying he got a doobie from the cop that he was actually lying! He was laughing his ass off that everybody believed his story.

Today he told me that he went up with a joint cupped in his hand and talked to the cop, shook his hand, and as he walked away from the cop, he showed a joint in his hand and said in (fake) amazement “wow, look what the cop just gave me!” and so legend was made. The whole place was retelling the story all day.

Gotta love this place, huh?

Sheriff Deputy suggests confiscated pot plants as “donation” for local Hospice.

Sheriff Deputy suggests confiscated pot plants as “donation” for local Hospice.

By Mikal Jakubal

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On Saturday, Heart Of The Redwoods Hospice held its annual fundraising barbecue, “Taste Of The Cove,” at Shelter Cove, on the shores of Humboldt County. There was the usual live music, socializing and tons of excellent food, especially local fish cooked to perfection.

I got there in time to get a yummy plate of food, but too late to film the surreal event in the photo. Apparently, a local Deputy raided someone’s pot patch in Shelter Cove, strapped the plants to his vehicle and pulled up next to the Hospice event. According to numerous witnesses, he jokingly announced something along the lines of, “here’s a donation for Hospice.”

One witness described the plants strapped to the vehicle “like a hunter with three deer strapped like trophies to his truck.”

This sort of thing, which might be considered surreal or offensive elsewhere, is so normal around here that I don’t think anyone was bothered. A few people did express regret for the poor grower who probably lost his whole year’s income. Many people later saw the vehicle driving through Redway, probably on the way to the place where they burn confiscated pot plants. This sort of scene will only get more and more common as Humboldt moves into harvest season.

The Ranger Ain’t Gonna Like It!

The following story from Canada was reported by the BBC today. Seems an interesting juxtaposition to yesterday’s double shoot-out at two pot farms guarded by armed men in Mendocino County, California that left one dead. Seems that everyone’s just mellower  in Canada.

‘Tame’ Bears Guard Canadian Marijuana Farm
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Police raiding a marijuana farm in western Canada were astonished to find black bears apparently guarding it.

However initial alarm wore off when officers realized the 10 or so bears did not behave aggressively and were in fact docile and tame.

Police believe dog food was used to attract the animals onto the farm in British Columbia.

But they say the bears may have to be put down if they have become accustomed to living around humans.

Two people were arrested in the raid.

The five police who went to the farm near Christina Lake, close to the US border, to dismantle the marijuana plantation were amazed when the bears loped into view.

“They were tame, they just sat around watching. At one point one of the bears climbed onto the hood of a police car, sat there for a bit and then jumped off,” said Royal Canadian Mounted Police sergeant Fred Mansveld.

In Canada, feeding bears is illegal as it leads to bears associating food with humans and increases the likelihood of bears coming into towns and cities to look for food.

Conservation officers are deciding the fate of the bears.

Feds Scrutinizing Oakland’s New Pot Laws

By Mikal Jakubal

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An article in San Francisco’s The Bay Citizen describes recent contact between the Drug Enforcement Administration and Oakland city officials regarding their recently-passed marijuana-growing regulations. The new rules would permit four indoor warehouse mega-grows, the biggest of them being capable of producing over fifty pounds of dried weed per day.  It was a question that many people had been asking, not just about Oakland, but about Proposition 19 and local ordinances like the one HuMMAP has proposed for Humboldt County.

I get asked all the time what I think the Feds will do if Prop 19 passes and if something like HuMMAP’s ordinance is adopted in Humboldt County. That ordinance would allow everyone to pay a modest license fee and grow a boat-load of weed for sale to the recreational market. I’ve always thought the DEA wouldn’t really do anything. The fact that they are looking at Oakland’s ordinance (and probably neighboring Berkeley’s proposed ordinance as well) and with the recent raid on Mendocino County’s first permitted grow site under the Sheriff’s new plan suggests that they may try some last-ditch intimidation tactics. I’d put my money on them taking a less jack-booted approach, though. Instead, they may threaten to withhold Federal highway or school funds or something along those lines until California rescinds recreational pot use.

If it passes in the first place. The threat of Federal intervention is no reason to vote against Prop 19. Pass the law first, then let’s see what happens.

Interestingly enough, Oakland’s own city attorney has expressed doubts about the legality of the new ordinance. From what I understand of the currently-legal “medical marijuana model”—a mix of laws, court decisions and guidelines—the Oakland mega-grows are pushing the limits waaaaay out past what even the most liberal interpretation of the model would allow. I suspect that they see the recreational writing on the wall and want to be out ahead of the curve in terms of both profiting from it and controlling it. I suspect that if Prop 19 passes, Oakland will simply modify the permit system to allow recreational sales from the few currently permitted dispensaries and grow warehouses. Individuals will still be able to freely possess one ounce and grow a 5′ x 5′ garden, but anything else would be tightly controlled by the city.

It’s a sign of the times that Humboldt, once ground zero for the marijuana wars, is barely worth a half-hearted skirmish anymore. I’m sure everyone here is fine with that. If Oakland wants mega-grows, let them take the heat that comes with it.

“Bad Luck, Weed Truck, Oh F**K!”

Transcribed and edited by Mikal Jakubal

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When California’s Compassionate Use Act—Proposition 215—passed in 1996, legalizing marijuana use for patients who had a doctor’s recommendation, people were finally able to grow weed in the open in their gardens. For a decade and a half before that, law-enforcement helicopters forced most growing under the cover of light forest canopy. Finding just the right forest type and doing selective pruning of the trees to let enough light in but still hide the plants from prying eyes was an art in itself.

Nowadays, with most growing taking place in full sun, plants can yield two pounds of dried “bud” easily and much more than that at the hands of a competent and attentive grower. In the shade gardens of yore, plant yield was measured in mere ounces. To make up for this shortfall, everyone grew more plants. 100-plant gardens were common, with plants grown in large plastic grow-bags. The bags were usually covered in mulch or spray painted camouflage colors. Rows and rows of shiny black plastic bags on the forest floor presented a more identifiable pattern for the helicopter spotters than the plants themselves.

Water to these gardens was often a confusing mayhem of pipes, tanks and pumps, expanded over time as new gardens were added. In the garden I’ll tell you about shortly, it worked like this: there was a small, gasoline-powered pump one thousand feet down the other side of the ridge hidden under a camo tarp. It was only fired up on weekends or at night during CAMP (the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting) season so as not to draw attention. Water was pumped up the ridge through buried one-inch-diameter plastic poly pipe. At the ridge-top, the pipe had been buried under the dirt road years ago. It then went down into a large south-facing, lightly-forested “bowl” where there was a 500-gallon black poly tank hidden under camo netting in the forest. Pipes ran down from there to the gardens, controlled by a series of valves.

Now, one of CAMP’s favorite things to do was find tanks or water lines and follow them (often intentionally hacking them up with their machetes) to the pot gardens. Sometimes, whole networks of gardens across an entire hillside would be busted just by following the network of water lines. Once at a tank, lines were easily pulled up from the shallow trenches they were buried in, leading the machete-wielding officers to the gardens. Digging them in deep enough to thwart the cops was too difficult in the rocky, root-filled soil, so some clever strategies were employed. My favorite one I learned from one of the original growers here.

He would intentionally run lines toward a large downed log. In the winter, when the ground was soft and there would be plenty of time for nature to heal over the signs of soil disruption, he would dig out under the log and put in a “T” connector, branching another line off and burying the junction deep under the log. He’d leave a tiny bit of pipe showing on the other side. That way, if CAMP followed the line, they’d step over the log, dig around and continue following the original line, but missing the line to the other gardens…hopefully.

As if cops weren’t enough to worry about, the deer get quite hungry around here by mid-summer and will eat sticky pot plants down to the stems if you let them. All these gardens had to be fenced, usually with six-foot-tall chicken wire tacked to trees or posts. Once a bit rusted, it was nearly invisible from a distance in the dappled forest light. While more expensive, heavier and harder to work with than the poly mesh fencing, chicken wire is much less prone to entangling snakes and birds. Leaving the gate open in September might mean a $5,000-a-plate marijuana dinner for some marauding deer. I always wondered how they could walk, or even stand, after chowing down that much weed.

Then there were wood rats. These cute little darlings love to harvest pungent plants to line their nest, probably to hide their scent from predators or ward off fleas. All my grower friends still had hippie values, so would scour the area and bust up the large, distinctive stick-pile nests to deter them from living near the gardens, then use traps in the gardens to stop any rats intent on poaching the weed. The less scrupulous used rat poison. Both traps and poison regularly killed other small animals, one of the dark sides of growing in the woods.

All this materiel, including soil in bags, had to be hauled in to the woods, preferably by hand so as not to leave trails for CAMP or ripoffs to follow. Some was carried in by hand or backpack, sometimes using an army-surplus two-person stretcher. If done early enough in the season, a four-wheeler ATV could be brought near the garden and then the trail left to grow over, becoming unused-looking by the time CAMP season started August 1st. Hauling all this in and setting up these gardens was a major source of early-season employment for thousands of SoHum residents and itinerant hippie kids looking to make some cash while playing outlaw in the hills.

Hopefully by now you get some picture of what growing weed was like for many homesteaders back before Prop. 215 opened things up a bit. For the record, many people also grew in greenhouses and others hid small pot plants among their tomatoes while others grew out in remote meadows in the sun and hoped the cops never saw the plants.

This story starts in about March of 1996 when a mutual friend gave another friend and I an unused shade garden on his back-forty in the hills above Briceland, the one with the water source in the drainage 1,000 feet over the other side of the ridge. We were both very involved in the Headwaters Forest protests at that time, but needed extra money to help fund our activism since we still had to pay our bills and land payments while we were organizing at base camp and chaining ourselves to trees and logging road gates. The cool thing was that, since we were using the money for a good cause, he let us use the space for free. Normally, he would have taken fifty percent of the harvest. I’m sure that if any loggers or (former) Pacific Lumber PR people read this, they’ll feel vindicated. “See! We told you so! They didn’t have jobs. They were all just weed-growing hippies!”

Well, at least we weren’t on welfare like they also claimed.

We started our seeds in a greenhouse, culled out the weak plants and males (only the female plants are grown) and had about 80 plants in one-gallon pots, enough to fill all the existing grow-bags. We planted them out in late May or early June, figuring we’d get a little over an ounce per plant (it was a very shady garden), for a total yield of six pounds. Three pounds apiece, at $4,000 per pound that we were getting back then was a lot of money for us.

Let’s skip forward to late September, just weeks before harvest and a whole season’s work about to pay off. It was the last day of CAMP for that year. Once their funds ran out, it was like a cease-fire was declared in the hills and harvest was mostly allowed to proceed without much further harassment. Everyone breathed a great sigh of relief when the end of CAMP season was announced. There were often parties to celebrate another good year.

Protest season was in full swing against clearcut logging of the ancient redwoods in an area that is now protected as the Headwaters Forest Preserve. We had a rotating population of twenty to sixty people at action base camp up Highway 30 near Carlotta. I was alternating between the pot garden, my paying work and basecamp, where I was helping with action planning and logistics. I think I only got busted twice that fall. The charges were eventually dropped.

Late one afternoon I was headed from basecamp up to the action media office in Eureka to drop off some film from the day’s protest. Turning north on Highway 101 at Alton, I was shortly passed by a couple of Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department 4WD vehicles going well over the speed limit. Then another one and another and finally, a large pickup truck that I’d seen before that they use to transport seized pot plants. Heaped up over the top of the cab were hundreds and hundreds of marijuana plants. Though the stems were strapped down, leaves and buds were flying off willy-nilly as they raced up the highway. Curious as to where they could be going at such speed at that late hour (it was almost dark), I stepped on it and followed them to Eureka, trying to avoid being detected as a tail. After a circuitous route through town, they arrived at what I would later learn was their equipment and evidence storage area and disappeared behind large chainlink gates.

I arrived at the media office and before even being able to hand over the film was asked by friends who also had interests in that watershed if I had heard about CAMP that day. “They busted the whole bowl!” All of it. Every single garden, every single plant, including ours. People had seen the convoy leaving the hill with the plants about an hour before they passed me on the 101. My heart sank and I blurted out something like, “Oh fuck! That was my weed!” and related the story of the buds—MY BUDS! My carefully-cultivated, babied, fertilized, doted-over buds—blowing down the highway like burger wrappers thrown out a window. What can you do but laugh?

It was eerie going back to the garden the next morning, knowing that a whole team of cops had been there so recently. At least we could be pretty sure that they weren’t staking it out. That wasn’t CAMP’s usual m.o. All they wanted was to keep their plant count up so they could justify next year’s budget. Busting people required too much work. Still, we approached cautiously at first. Inside the open gate, the one that we had so dutifully closed and tied shut against deer for months, nothing remained but a few wispy lower branches. We dutifully harvested them, mostly for their sentimental value. We’d have at least one smoke for our efforts. At least CAMP didn’t chop up the water lines.

That’s just how it went sometimes. Some years you got mold or rats or someone left a gate open and the deer ate one third of your crop. Some years your dealer got busted. Some years you got CAMPed. And some years—most years, for most people—you got away with it. It was all part of the little game we all played and still play. No matter how bad it might get in any given year, when averaged over a whole lifestyle, the cost/benefit picture looked and still looks pretty damn good.

Me, I’m glad to be out of it. This is not a good time to be dependent on an economy that might be on the verge of evaporating. Very few who depend on the black market for their livelihood are willing to face the changes head-on, preferring denial or fear at a time when creativity, resourcefulness and a bull-by-the-horns attitude are all that will save us from the change no one ever thought would come. No matter what happens in the next couple years, it will be interesting.

Undercover cop: “Where can I buy an ounce?”

By Mikal Jakubal

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Besides trying to make a film, I run a small plant nursery Plants For The People that is right on the county road. I have a big “open” sign out, trying to draw people in from the road to look at my plants. (I also run a portable sawmill and backhoe.) I’m the only road-front business in this area, so it is common for people to stop in and ask directions, ask to buy a gallon of gas, ask where the nearest payphone is…and ask where they can buy weed.

Really.

It happens half a dozen times each year. This time of the year, they usually ask if I sell pot plants. Once when I said no, the guy replied sarcastically, “well, aren’t you a nursery?” Well, yes. A nursery, not a pot dispensary. If you want pot plants, there are some pot collectives in Oakland that will hook you up. I’ve been asked where to get pounds of weed, pounds of bud trim, if I’m buying weed, where to get trimming work and about everything else. Other times, people casually ask very unusual and pointed questions about my finances or they make a few too many innuendos for me to believe they are on the level. Most people in business around here have had this same experience.

Just an hour ago, a guy pulled up and asked me where he could buy an ounce of weed. Claimed he  was from Georgia and was just in Honeydew (a little town a couple ridges over) where someone gave him a bud that was the best he’d ever had. Said he wanted to get an ounce to mail home to Georgia and explained his crafty scheme to hide it in a can of coffee and ship it Fedex.

I can never tell whether people like this are cops trying to entrap me or are sincere but painfully naive individuals. Or both. It doesn’t really matter because I’m not dealing weed and don’t have any to sell them. Now, from a legal standpoint, I should answer such questions with an abrupt “no” and send them on their way. But, I’m always interested in people and always looking for stories, so I can’t help but engage a bit. I realize that if Georgia-dude was in fact an undercover cop wearing a wire, anything I say might lead them to think I was hiding something or was actually considering making a deal. Remember that people asking strangers where to buy weed are as nervous and suspicious as the stranger being asked, though this guy was so casual and talkative that it smelled a bit “off.”

While talking to these people entails that risk, it also has interesting side benefits. Immediately after he left, I tweeted about the encounter. KHUM radio picked it up and put me live on the air for a couple minutes to talk about the film. That resulted in a bunch of new Twitter followers and likely quite a few visits to this site. I’ve also received access to some interesting interview tapes someone made and a reporter recontacted me about doing a story on the film.

So, Georgia-dude, good luck in your quest for weed and, if you are from law enforcement, keep up the good work! I’ll be able to build a very exciting publicity campaign around your visits.