A Look into the Future


From Janie Sheppard

3/2/09 Ukiah, North California

Let’s just imagine, for a few minutes, that marijuana is legal. There are signs that such legalization is in the offing: The new Attorney General, Eric Holder, has said it will henceforth be the policy of the DEA not to raid California medical marijuana dispensaries. There are other signs as well.

California would become the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana for recreational use under a bill introduced February 23rd  by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco.  Numerous commentators have suggested that taxing marijuana sales, a Thirteen Billion Dollar industry in California alone, would be a painless way to fill the state’s coffers. Taxation, long ignored as a source of revenue for our beleaguered state, extends to marijuana sales. Imagine, for now, that is the reality.

With legalization, comes regulation. Only sustainably grown marijuana, meeting organic standards, is legal. Artificial fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides, diesel generators, their spills and contamination, along with vicious guard dogs, are relics of the past.

Sales are made only to adults, with strict punishments meted out to anyone caught selling to underage purchasers. This is how sales of alcohol and tobacco are controlled today; such a scheme easily could be adapted for marijuana sales.

Mendocino County is known for strains of marijuana that treat specific maladies, many of them providing medicinal benefits without the high. Purchasing these strains is no longer illegal. Imagine patients receiving treatment without being forced into bankruptcy by prescriptions that make the out-of-county pharmaceutical companies rich. Recall too that the defendant in the Kelly case, presently before the California Supreme Court, grew 7 marijuana plants (one over the limit under S.B. 420) to treat pain, something he could not afford to do by purchasing prescription pharmaceuticals.

Recreational users, for the most part, become responsible, just as most wine drinkers are today. Wine drinking drivers know they stand a healthy chance of being pulled over and arrested if they have exceeded the allowable blood alcohol limit. Well publicized campaigns against driving drunk provide further deterrence and the same could work for marijuana.

The Sheriff deploys deputies to help the federal government clean up trespass on federal lands where illegal grows produce no tax revenue, only environmental damage. Illegal grows decrease rapidly because there are more available enforcement personnel. Wildlife returns to take advantage of the quietude and the water that is no longer siphoned from the streams for irrigating. Consider that last season there were 50 trespass grows on Cow Mountain alone, with only one BLM enforcement agent for the entire Ukiah district. Consequently, there was no enforcement and only minimal cleanup.

The Sheriff can deploy deputies to help the feds because it got its act together early. Seeing legalization on the horizon, the Sheriff and his deputies brainstormed priorities. They figured out that the serious problems (not per se breaking the law) came from large-scale growers using diesel powered generators to run the lights and fans required for indoor grows. Also causing big problems were the out-of-county residents who hired locals to tend marijuana gardens here, there, and everywhere. And, of course, the gun-toting, pit bull owning outlaws. The Sheriff realized that if he concentrated his efforts on the serious problems, he could win support of county residents. He also realized that shutting down local, small-scale growers hurt the local economy. He quit doing that.

Paul Krugman, noted economist and New York Times op-ed columnist won the Nobel Prize last year for his ideas about international trade. Implied in those ideas was the notion that production (e.g., of marijuana) becomes concentrated in areas where expertise exists. Here, where medical marijuana expertise exists in abundance, we should acknowledge it by promoting the various Mendocino marijuana-based remedies. This is our opportunity. We need to take advantage of it.
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