With the opening of Angelina Jolie’s latest film “Salt” — which casts her as a double agent working for the Russians, and following the recent arrests of 12 bona fide Russian spies who had been living undercover in American cities, America appears to be warming up to a New Cold War — all over again. You may not realize that Mendocino County is in the thick of the battle.
Sheriff Tom Allman begins this year’s growing season with the same marijuana objectives as he had in 2009 — Commercial Operations, Trespass Grows, Public Land Grows, Environmental Degradation Grows, Water Theft and Illegal Diversion Grows, Neighborhood Complaints and Compliance Checks.
One additional objective was included: Cartels.
“The Russian Mafia are here,” says the Sheriff.
Though we don’t know where the local cartel is headquartered, Russian River Estates, Russian Gulch State Park and properties along the Russian River must be likely strongholds.
If the new Red Threat wasn’t enough to stress out on, the cannabis community is reacting loudly to a DEA-led raid on the Covelo home of Joy Greenfield, 68 — dispensary owner, medical marijuana patient and recently dubbed “Grandma Grower” of marijuana activists. Some see this raid as a bellwether moment forecasting the failure of the county’s just-adopted, labyrinthine 9.31 marijuana nuisance ordinance — already the subject of two civil lawsuits.
Greenfield’s raid is being spotlighted by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which is asking President Obama to withdraw his nomination of Michele Leonhart for the position of administrator of the DEA, citing her disregard for Attorney General Eric Holder’s directive that US Attorneys “not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”
At the recent Mendocino Medical Marijuana Advisory Board’s public forum, Greenfield told the audience she had made every effort to comply with the County’s newly enacted policy, including direct communication with the Sheriff’s office, COMMET and the County Counsel. She even had her property inspected by county law enforcement. Despite taking these protective measures, she was raided by DEA agents. What was the impetus for the raid?
Greenfield’s hempish history starts in 2006 when she lived in Colorado Springs. She was lucky enough to discover that cannabis provided immense relief for a congenital eye condition. She realized she needed cannabis in her daily life. “All I could find was some that was so old it wouldn’t burn,” she told the crowd.
Really? Readers may recall the lines of the 1972 Top Ten hit by John Denver, which has gone on to become one of the state’s official songs:
It’s a Colorado Rocky Mountain high,
I see it rainin’ fire in the sky,
Friends around the campfire, and everybody’s high,
Rocky Mountain high, Colorado…
Coloradans has been enjoying their Rocky Mountain High for decades. In 2000, voters passed a constitutional amendment allowing doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients for the treatment of certain illnesses, as recommended by their doctors. Last month, Gov. Bill Ritter (D) signed H.B. 1284, a bill sponsored by Rep. Tom Massey (R-Poncha Springs) which will license and regulate Colorado’s cannabis dispensaries.
Currently there are over 1,000 dispensaries scattered across the Centennial State. There are 77 dispensaries in Colorado Springs alone. It is difficult to fathom how Ms. Greenfield was unable to locate cannabis in a state as ganja-friendly as Colorado.
Greenfield decided to move to California and wound up in Covelo. She stated when she heard about the Sheriff’s 99-plant exemption, “I decided to open a dispensary.” And that she did.
According to the website, Greenfield’s dispensary offers about 20 varieties of cannabis at any given time, with a total of 32 strains available plus an assortment of concentrates and edibles. Could Greenfield’s 25-plant Covelo grow (or even her proposed 99-plant garden) have produced enough varieties and quantities of cannabis to provide for the 1,000 patient members of her dispensary?
DEA agents were interested in questioning Greenfield about an “acquaintance” of hers. Helpers on her property were asked about “other growsites.” They talked to her about “associations” — Routine questions or not? Was it Greenfield’s dispensary, and not the fact that she was the test case for the county’s nuisance ordinance — that provided agents the evidence they needed for the raid?
A DEA agent, in response to Greenfield’s explanation she was an applicant for the 99-plant exemption, allowing her to grow more than the permitted 25 plants per parcel, was said to say that the DEA “didn’t care about Allman’s ordinance.”
“They don’t,” shrugs Sheriff Allman — with a kind of tacit acceptance. “Listen. The Feds know what zip-ties look like.”
The DEA agent’s actions were not inconsistent with the entire Holder Memo. It continues, “compliance with state or local law may mask operations inconsistent with the terms, conditions, or purposes of those laws, and federal law enforcement should not be deterred by such assertions when otherwise pursuing the Department’s core enforcement priorities.”
Not only did the agent not care about the ordinance. If he produces evidence of “operations inconsistent with the terms, conditions or purposes of those laws,” the DEA would have every reason to conduct a raid.
Someone who did make a promise to Allman was Joe Russoniello — US Attorney for the Northern District of California. “Two years ago, Joe Russoniello sat in this very chair. We had a handshake deal. If a person was within Sate and local guidelines, they wouldn’t prosecute,” explains the Sheriff. If people want to question any office about the DEA’s actions in Mendocino County, it would seem that the Sheriff is pointing to a good place to start.
The Sheriff states that the lines of communication between himself and his counterpart within the DEA are always open and that he has not hesitated to communicate his concerns. “If there is ever a problem, I talk directly to the DEA supervisor. We’ve gone out, had coffee and talked things over many times.”
One issue that is probably above the pay grade of Allman and the DEA Supervisor is the fact that Mendocino County is bearing some of the support costs when assisting the DEA with raids. “We receive some funding from the DEA but it doesn’t compensate for everything,” he says. On the other hand, he does not begrudge their presence. In fact, he feels it is necessary.
“If we didn’t have the help of the DEA we’d be out of our league. If you believe the statistic that 70% of the marijuana sold in the US comes from Northern California, then you can see why the Federal Government has a vested interest in staying here,” he says.
Pot People don’t decry legitimate raids on legitimate criminals. Maybe the DEA will expose Ms. Greenfield as a “Queenpin,” but if they don’t, what the heck was that all about?
At the heart of the cannabis industry, one finds some pretty interesting, albeit colorful, characters. What does a 65-year-old, toothless Vietnam Vet who has for 30 years been quietly growing exceptional, organic medicinal plants in the north county have in common with the Russian Mafia, or the meth heads abusing their children while growing pesticide-laden, mold-filled dreck in their kid’s bedrooms?
One of the most recurrent and disturbing topics within the pot community is the reports of raids gone bad — everything from theft of seized cannabis and cash to destruction of evidence and property. The interwoven relationships between marijuana eradication agencies — which in some cases share personnel and equipment, the fact that the dollar amount of seized assets in Mendocino County is third or fourth in the state, and the fact that more than a handful of troubling incidents are widely discussed in cannabis circles, yet few individuals will go public with their allegations — these factors contribute to what the late Steve Scully would have described as “the appearance of impropriety.”
The Sheriff is in a very unenviable position. With the recent revelations of the astounding claims against Lake County Sheriff-Coroner Rodney Mitchell — currently under investigation by the Lake County Grand Jury, the Department of Homeland Security, the California Fair Political Practices Commission and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, you can’t even argue that “it can’t happen here.”
Some postulate that the DEA and the MCSO worked together on the Greenfield raid. Sheriff Allman bristles at the idea that he would turn in someone like Greenfield to the Feds. “Why would I give that kind of information to the Feds — and risk ruining relationships it’s taken years for us to develop?”
Many people have commented on the fact that County deputies have accompanied DEA personnel on raids. There are two reasons for this, according to Allman. The first is simple. “I would not turn down a DEA request for support, especially in the interest of officer safety,” he explains.
The other reason the Sheriff gives for deputy support is that he wants his own office’s eyes and ears on the ground. “A couple of years ago we had an incident in Covelo,” said Allman. “I was told a member of law enforcement just hacked up somebody’s vegetable garden. I didn’t believe it until Keith Faulder brought me photos. There it was — pumpkins, corn, everything. We expect better of law enforcement. I want a representative there, so if something occurs I can find out what happened,” he says.
At a Willits meeting of the Mendocino Medical Marijuana Advisory Board several months ago, Allman stated clearly that his office was open to the FBI, and encouraged the audience to contact them if they felt they were the victim of unscrupulous officers. He reminds people that if a law enforcement official is asked for their identification, they must provide their name and badge number. For people engaged in a profession which includes arrest, court and jail in the “other duties as assigned” portion of the job description, it is surprising to hear how many people forget to exercise this and other basic rights when questioned, raided or detained.
Allman emphasizes his pointed efforts to create an open door policy — without condoning or promoting cannabis use which he emphatically does not. “When I came into this position, our Deputies didn’t even have business cards. That was one of the first things I did.”
The Sheriff states it is far too early to judge the merits of Greenfield’s case — if there ever is one. He is absolutely correct. “Who are we to say we’re right or wrong until we hear the facts?” He chose to make a statement frequently repeated during times of crisis. The space between his words feels somber and forthright and frustrated — all at the same time. He speaks slowly. “I’m just asking people to please withhold their opinions until we have all the facts. If the Federal Government writes a sealed warrant, sooner or later it will be unsealed.”
If Greenfield is vindicated and no federal charges are filed, “people had better be ready to apologize,” Allman emphasizes. He is correct in this too. If her case goes to court, he says, all the better. “At the end of every court case, we’ll have a clearer idea of which direction we’re headed in.”
The Sheriff will make an effort to get Greenfield’s application fee refunded — if that is her wish. But if past behavior is an indicator of the present, Greenfield may have to wait a while for her refund while those in charge spend countless hours debating the applicable conditions for and language of a refund policy.
Jim Hill, medical marijuana grower and patient who was visited by the DEA nearly one year ago, is one of the parties suing the county over the 9.31 ordinance. He also spoke at the MMMAB forum. “I just don’t think that people are pissed off enough yet.”
Hill, too, may be right.
The cannabis activist community (the AVA unkindly calls them the “pot people) represents a small percentage of those involved with the Mendocino marijuana trade in this County. The kind of political galvanization that has occurred in other cannabis communities across America has not taken hold in Mendo. Though the efforts of groups of Mendocino Medical Marijuana Advisory Board have been dogged and respected by many within and without county government, the organization does not have an official place at the table. There are no organized efforts to create a voting bloc or to actively support candidates who most closely represent the views of marijuana activists. And despite reports of a marijuana industry worth up to $`10 billion in Mendocino County, there is no local vehicle in place for donors to support the dissemination of educational materials, provide legal aid, teach responsible and ethical growing practices or point people new to medical cannabis in the right direction.
The City of San Diego has a Medical Marijuana Task Force. Members of the committee include representatives from community planning/land use, business owners, law enforcement, cooperative/collective owners, patients and the medical community. They have regular meetings, post their minutes on the City’s website, accept public comment and are helping to craft the regulation for the region’s dispensaries.
Why is one of the most high-profile growing regions in the world completely bereft of a system which would bring together stakeholders and create cannabis policies and guidelines which would truly protect those who are working within the county’s admittedly bizarre legal boundaries? Wouldn’t a group like this help to clearly, unambiguously guide our officers toward arresting and convicting the truly parasitic, dangerous and downright evil cannabis criminals?
We call it synchronicity. Tibetan Buddhists call it “auspicious interdependent coincidence.” Whatever you call it, as the final proofing of this story was taking place, the grandkids turned on the television. What was on? There they were — Alan Arkin and Carl Reiner, in the 1966 classic satire, “The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!” Though the story is set in New England, anyone from this area would immediately recognize the buildings and topography of the town of Mendocino, where the movie was filmed.
At the end of the film, the grounded submarine filled with Russian soldiers has been repaired. A soldier’s act of heroism has created a bond between the Russians and the townspeople, who protectively surround the sub with their boats as it heads back out to sea. American fighter jets buzz the submarine and turn back — confused by the protective presence of the local citizenry. In the background, the Mendocino Headlands jut out of the pristine, sparkling blue water — which 40 years later, thanks to the Herculean efforts and one-pointed focus of some very concerned county residents, is as stunningly blue today as it was then.