It's been thirty years since Mendocino County fired Ted Erickson for saying that marijuana was Mendocino County's number one export crop. Not only saying it, but writing it. Erickson was the county's Commissioner of Agriculture. His statement of the obvious was included in his annual report on rural Mendocino County's cultivated bounty, including its timber, cattle, sheep, pears, apples, and fish. But everyone knew by then that dope farming offered the biggest cash return for effort expended. Erickson was Mendocino County's first pot martyr. He had to go because he said out loud what everyone already knew but didn't want to admit — marijuana was paying the bills for thousands of county residents. Marijuana is a weed, after all, and how hard is it to grow weeds?
There's been no mention of pot's economic primacy in the annual ag report since Erickson's candor got him the sack, but marijuana is now grown on such a large scale everywhere in Mendocino County that the Sheriff himself says without hesitation, "It's everywhere. And there's more out there this year than any of us have ever seen. Anybody who flies over the Anderson Valley or any other area of the county will see marijuana gardens."
More gardens than ever and, the police and consumers alike agree, stronger dope than ever with new pygmy plants being perfected which are said to produce as much as three pounds of high THC content dope. THC is the chemical agent that gets the smoker high, puts the wowee in Mendo Mellow, which in turn has made retail demand for Mendocino marijuana grow faster every year than supply. The new strains of locally grown pot, with as much as three pounds of bud on each with plant, is the latest development in consciousness alteration. The new pygmy plants also emit an odor that law enforcement says is "about ten times smellier than regular dope." Mostly, though, stoner-approved high content pot is being raised in the hills and backyards of the Anderson Valley and throughout Mendocino County on the traditional corn stalk-tall plant. It's the plant one can't help but see from an aerial vantage point, in some areas like the Rancheria watershed west of Boonville, the grows are so numerous the river's hillsides look like vertical corn fields.
Twenty-five plants plus two pounds of processed bud is legal to possess in Mendocino County. You can say it's your medicine and even get yourself an official ID card saying it's your meds and "I need my meds, officer. Here's my card." An efficient, experienced pot gardener, assuming he doesn't smoke up too much of his product, can easily pull off a cool, tax-free $50,000 a year from the pot he legally grows off his back porch. Is it surprising, then, that very tough immigrant hombres, and some very cagey locals, are growing huge amounts of dope in Mendocino County? And growing more of it this year than any year prior? Is it surprising that they carry guns and help themselves to other people's land and water? Is it surprising that they leave rat poison and grow bags and garbage at their grow sites? That they shoot wildlife and take water out of imperiled upstream fisheries? That every season several someones are murdered buying, selling or growing marijuana?
Police confiscations of marijuana from the huge gardens has been large every season for years now, and will be large again this year when the annual Campaign Against Marijuana Production arrives with its helicopters the first week of September to uproot the county's most flagrant, large-scale grows, several of which are the work of Anderson Valley-based farmers. The total police confiscation effort will keep prices high, high enough to attract even more growers next year.
Political opinion, it goes without saying, is divided, although pot propagandists and bogus medical pot sales people show up in force at public meetings and are much more generally aggressive in advancing pro-pot positions than the "straight" segments of local communities are in opposing them.
There's a huge downside to the de facto legalization of the drug in the county, not the least of which is convincing young people that marijuana, especially the new, high potency varieties, is a habit-forming energy drain as numbingly handicapping in its way as alcohol. But the drug's negatives are numerous. Here are some of them that don't get the attention they deserve.
Earlier this summer a fish biologist began work on Indian Creek, as pristine a stream as there is in the Anderson Valley and, not that many years ago, a significant spawning ground for Coho salmon. The biologist's work required permissions from land owners whose properties abut Indian Creek. Also abutting the stream, especially where it meanders through boulders so huge and so strewn with years of winter's downed trees one wonders how fish could possibly get upstream, marijuana planters have set up shop. The biologist who, like so many people, refuses to speak for attribution for fear of retaliation, fear being another negative consequence of Mendocino County's unchecked marijuana industry, says, with audible disgust,
"We had to stop our survey this year because a landowner had found pot gardens on his property. He was worried that we might get hurt. My work takes me everywhere in the county, its most remote areas, and I can tell you that there's an incredible increase in marijuana growing this year. The increase is enormous. We're seeing it everywhere. The worst thing about it is that a lot of growers are taking water from the creeks in a very dry year. There isn't enough water for salmon anyway, and here come people taking the water that's left this late in the summer."
"We all know the county runs on marijuana, but I don't think people have any idea of how out-of-control the marijuana scene is this year. I thought we legalized it in Prop 215 to stop this. I know Philo like the back of my hand, and I've never had any trouble here, but I got spooked this year by some of the characters I was running into out in the woods, and I've worked Usal, Legget, Outlet Creek, the Middle Fork of the Eel, all the hot marijuana spots, but to be spooked in Anderson Valley? What we have is renegade growers trespassing, sucking the creeks dry for their own economic benefit. On top of every other bad thing they're doing, they're screwing the landowners who can't get restoration funding unless they have fish data."
"Indian Creek has never been habitat-typed. I worked real hard to get access, and now I can't complete the project. There's one spot where we had to walk in waders through human feces because pot growers were using the spot as a bathroom, and that's a spot where it took us three hours to hike in to. I don't think it's fair that the salmon are being imperiled because of pot planters. I pay taxes, and a portion of my taxes goes for stream rehab for juvenile salmon so we can have commercial and recreational fishing for Mendocino County and the rest of Northern California. Some people say, 'Oh, it's a hippie thing.' Not anymore. It's organized crime. These are people Mexico would like not to have in Mexico."
There are reports of growers on upper Indian Creek using generators to pump water out of the stream and up into the hills to their gardens. Generators. Generators with big hoses stuck in the stream's late summer pools.
The fish biologist said upper Indian Creek has pools containing large steelhead, which means Indian Creek, despite the crimes of nature being committed against it by marijuana trespassers, lives on. "It's in surprisingly good shape," the biologist concluded, "but it won't stay that way unless these people are kept out of there."
Last Thursday, COMMET, County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team, drove deep into the Indian Creek hills, ignoring as they went Philo's perennial pot bustee, Jim Dunne's place. Boonville's resident deputy, Keith Squires, accompanied the raid team as they drove deeper into the hills, providing running commentary on the personalities of some of the residents of upper Indian Creek:
"Big old ugly cranker from Lake County is up in here lately," and "there's a whole bunch of derelicts out at Dunne's, but we went way past them another forty-five minutes out to a Mexican grow. They've been out there for years now. They dig deep holes for plastic liners then they drive the water in on their pick-ups to fill the holes with water for the summer grows. They do a lot of this kind of digging work during the winter so it's all set up for planting in the dry months. A lot of people think the growers walk in but they usually have motorcycles hidden around. They'll walk to the first gate then motorcycle their supplies in from there."
"What happened up there was a caretaker noticed that the growers had tapped into a pond Albert Elmer built way back when he owned the land. Suddenly the water level in the pond went way down and pretty soon they found the garden. We took 463 marijuana plants and five cucumbers and three sleeping bags out of there the other day, but it took us most of the day to do it. We need the helicopters. They can hit a bunch of gardens in a day with a helicopter, but if you have to drive in, well, we used up one whole day to get 463 plants when there's probably 463,000 plants out there spread all over the place."
"I've noticed last couple of years that more and more growers, most of the season, commute to their gardens. They used to live in the gardens, but now they'll sleep out there for a few nights then come back into town for a few nights. But this time of year they're pretty much out in the gardens all the time to protect them from thieves. There is a lot more pot out there this year. No doubt about it, and here we are back to doing it by hand one garden at a time like we did 25 years ago because there's no helicopter. We used to have a helicopter year-round. We got to a lot more gardens when we had it."
The deputy said that crank labs were a thing of the past in the valley because ready made methamphetamine was now being brought in from outside. "But lots of local kids are smoking dope, and a lot of young girls think meth is a good way to lose weight. They think they can do it with losing their teeth or going nuts, but I tell them it's like playing Russian Roulette with bullets in all the chambers. There are kids in the sixth grade who smoke pot because they're growing up around it. I drive around the valley and I see fences with the medical pot cards nailed on them, and big gardens right behind the fence. It's a joke. And people wonder why kids get into it?"