- Mendocino County
- Anderson Valley
by Carole Brodsky, September 15, 2011
Now westlin’ winds and slaughtering guns
Bring Autumn’s pleasant weather
The moorcock springs on whirring wings
Among the bloomin’ heather.
Now waving grain wild o’er the plain
Delights the weary farmer.
And the moon shines bright when I rove at night
To muse upon my charmer.
* * *
Just prior to September’s full moon, the first formal gathering of citizens weighing in on whether to craft, draft or gaff at county cannabis regulations took place within the County’s Conference Room C in Ukiah.
Dozens filled the room, with about two score choosing to publically state their opinion on cannabis dispensaries. The question at hand? To Regulate or Not, and if So, How?
Regulation, which seems a foregone conclusion will add many pages and another digit to the county’s current 9.31 Medical Marijuana Cultivation Regulation.
The depth and breadth of Future Ordinance 9.32 has yet to be determined, which is one reason Supervisor John McCowen convened this public meeting. Announced by McCowen via email and print media, this first of many confabs had a decidedly different tone from the unbelievably fractious, contemptuous go-rounds associated with the drafting of the 9.31 ordinance.
One by one, dispensary owners, SF-based reps from several cannabis organizations and concerned citizens stepped forward to present their views. Though points of view differed widely, and though not all speakers favor an ordinance, there was not nearly the level of unconscionable acrimony and finger pointing which characterized the tenor of communication during the crafting of 9.31.
Gabriel Martin, manager of the Leonard Moore Collective in Mendocino, addressed the need for regulation and the belief of some community members that the presence of dispensaries increases potential for crime.
“We have several jewelry stores in the village of Mendocino who have inventory far exceeding my shelf. There are no problems there. The bank across the street, where the money is, has no guard. Let’s address the real concerns which are the fears, allow them to be explored and create positive language to be accepted as regulation,” said Martin, succinctly summing up the feelings of the majority of the county’s dispensary operators.
“The subject is crime and safety in our community,” he continued. “If my neighbor is not comfortable with something I’m doing, then my community is not safe. We need to hear the concerns from all sides and address them.”
Regarding the upcoming ordinance draft, Martin was optimistic. “I believe we have a chance to bring a powerful model to the table- to say, ‘this is how we do it, and it protects everybody.’”
Mike and Terry Johnson operate Ukiah’s Compassionate Heart Mutual Benefit Association, probably the oldest dispensary in the county. They question the need for an ordinance. The Johnsons believe an ordinance will create a fee structure for something that doesn’t need to exist, echoing Supervisor John Pinches’ feelings on the dispensary situation- “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The Johnson’s reticence to support an ordinance is also rooted in decisions supported by Supervisor McCowen when he sat on the Ukiah City Council and approved rules prohibiting operation of dispensaries and the citywide ban on outdoor cannabis cultivation. The restrictive regulations were crafted in part as a response to community outcry following the death of a man attempting to rob a large outdoor garden located within feet of Yokayo Elementary School.
The Johnsons, who provide medicine to many within McCowen’s Ukiah-based Supervisorial district cite the effect of the carbon footprint upon the city by permitting indoor-only cannabis growing within city limits, and are concerned a 9.32 ordinance will affect the pocketbook of the sick and poor. “Your credibility and your real goal in all this remains a mystery to me,” Terry Johnson states to Supervisor McCowen. “I represent a large number of your constituents and I don’t want you to let them down due to the negative stereotypes used by the City of Ukiah- when they gutted our right to grow our own medicine or acquire it legally within their fair city,” she concludes.
And if one were to analyze Supervisor McCowen’s public views on cannabis, one could feel justifiably confused. The enigmatic man who voted for what the Johnson’s feel are Ukiah’s draconian cannabis guidelines is celebrated as one of the primary crafters of the ordinance allowing farmers to “legally” cultivate 99 plants in Mendocino County. McCowen lost a measure of political support because of 9.31, as he was perceived by his Ukiah-based anti-cannabis constituents to be a turncoat. He was one of the keynote speakers for NORML’s high-profile “Next Steps” Conference, a staunch supporter of anti-small-grower Measure B, and he regularly consults with state lawmaker Tom Ammiano and other BMOC’s (Big Men On Cannabis). McCowen repeatedly asserts his firm belief that cannabis should be decriminalized at the federal level and is very clear that the growing body of scientific evidence confirming legitimate and even astonishing medical applications for cannabis has absolutely no impact upon his beliefs or decision making process. John will state that the “why” of why people use cannabis does not concern him. For these dispensary operators who are besieged on a daily basis, not just with “stoners” but also with the very ill and dying, the provision of affordable, clean, quality products in a safe atmosphere is very much a life and death issue.
Mike Johnson is particularly rankled by community members fearing that dispensaries could or would sell cannabis to children. “I just don’t see how you would single out any other portion of society and say, ‘You would abuse children if we would only let you.’ I’m offended by that,” Johnson bristled.
“This county must have some dispensaries,” Johnson continues. “The county is currently making about a half a million dollars licensing people to grow 99 plants at a time. Without a legal outlet for all that cannabis, 9.31 becomes a criminal enterprise,” he cautions. Thus far, US Attorney Melinda Haag has not turned her eye upon the 9.31 program, and if she did, it is this reporter’s opinion that Supervisor McCowen would probably fight vehemently to protect the rights of the farmers who have chosen to participate in it.
Citizens of Anderson Valley are paying close attention to this process, in light of Fifth District Supervisor Dan Hamburg’s recusal from the a now-defunct 9.32 ad-hoc “committee.” Hamburg’s daughter Laura’s intention to open up Mendocino Generations — a dispensary in downtown Boonville prompted her father’s recusal and motivated another element of the community to come over the hill to Ukiah for Friday’s meeting: opponents of Hamburg’s location next door to Boonville’s Valley Bible Fellowship as well as those who have concerns that any dispensary in the Valley could be seen as the community’s sanctioning of what is considered medicine for some and a dangerous drug for others.
Laura Hamburg chose to focus upon the need to draft a local ordinance, especially in light of the passage of state legislation, which could impose de-facto prohibition of dispensaries in Mendocino County located within residential use or zoning regions. One bill states dispensaries cannot be within 600 feet of a school, and SB 847, currently sitting on Governor Brown’s desk, states dispensaries cannot be within 600 feet of a residential zone or use. “That is an urban mentality that does not match the culture and climate of an ag community. If we say no dispensaries within 600 feet of a residential zone, we would have no dispensaries at all, because many of our hamlets are zoned CR,” notes Hamburg. “We need to match our climate and culture rather than defaulting to whatever is on the state level. We learned a lot from the 9.31 process. We have an opportunity to draft something that matches the will of the public and protects us as dispensary owners. It’s all about enhancing patient access. That’s why we open dispensaries,” continued Hamburg, concluding that she would like to, “roll up our sleeves and pass an ordinance.”
Beverly Dutra of Philo is upset about the possibility of a dispensary in Boonville. “This is a special kind of community. We don’t have industrial edges where it would fit,” she notes. Being clear to assert that she does not imply dispensaries provide product to kids, Dutra feels teen cannabis users are at risk. “With medical marijuana, they are getting the message that it is ok for them. We have enough information that it is not ok for the teenage brain,” she continues, asserting more teens are admitted to inpatient programs with pot problems than for alcohol dependency.
Like Johnson, Dutra is concerned about legal challenges to 9.31, but for a different reason. “Since dispensaries are not protected in the law, there’s a risk if there’s a lot of pushback from a public that doesn’t accept a dispensary in their community, it will endanger what has already been accomplished by 9.31 regulations.” Dutra suggests a four to six month moratorium to come up with a draft that is acceptable to everyone.
James Shaw, with the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients based in Los Angeles, states that a moratorium is a double-edged sword for both sides. A moratorium has three phases — a 45-day initial moratorium, then two possible six month extensions.
“The challenge,” he told the audience, “is once the time clock starts running, you need to complete your ordinance process. If it expires before process is completed, people will be able to open dispensaries.” He urged the group to strategize the timing of that 45-day clock. “If you don’t have a bunch of people rushing out to open up dispensaries, you might just let it ride for a minute before starting the moratorium, and have it ready to kick in. The City of Los Angeles was involved with major lawsuits with post-ICO organizations that opened after the moratorium expired, because the City did not get an ordinance passed in time.”
Can the county pass an ordinance within 45 days? Hard to say. The 9.31 ordinance took a bit longer, partially due to a changing of the Supervisorial guard. “It took effect in February in 2008 and was referred to committed for revisions in April 2009,” says McCowen. “An amendment was adopted in May of 2010 which took effect in June, 2010 and was amended again this year.”
Hamburg spoke to Anderson Valley Today representative Terry Ryder and Beverly Dutra following the meeting and reiterated her statement made at her dispensary Meet and Greet event last week. If another location can be found, or if the 9.32 ordinance bans dispensaries next to churches, she will “happily move.” However, until that time comes, she asks that the community help her find another location and give her a chance to show that she and her partners are responsible and responsive neighbors.
Mendocino Generations’ location may be a moot point, as the Valley Bible Fellowship has declared themselves to be a school, and the whole caboodle is now in the hands of officials from County Building and Planning who will visit the site and review information from the community to determine if their claim is true and if a business license can be granted to Hamburg’s dispensary. Not all community members agree with the church’s strategy, and some residents feel the church has taken a dangerous tack in bringing in the county inspectors. What might be discovered on an old commercial site that housed a gas station and garage for decades might not be to anyone’s liking, and undoubtedly, the Public Expression sessions in upcoming Supes meetings will be taken up with this issue- with pleas that a moratorium be enacted post-haste.
According to Hamburg, though most parishioners claim solidarity with their pastor, not all church members feel the dispensary will be the undoing of their 40-year ministry. “Individual church members have spoken to me confidentially. They stated they were not afraid of our being neighbors, that they are suffering from serious medical conditions and are very interested in seeing if cannabis applications could help them.”
Several individuals reminded the audience that a dearth of dispensaries creates a flourishing black market. “Dispensaries don’t create medical patients,” says Jim Hill, county resident, farmer and operator of two southern California, authentic closed-loop dispensaries, where Hill and his wife Trelanie are the sole providers of medicine for their patient base. “You’d move them to the next door neighbors. People in your neighborhood aren’t collecting payroll taxed or sales tax. You might not really like what you get if you close dispensaries down,” he continued.
Hill, whose dispensaries generate over $100,00 in annual state sales tax, who has had the DEA visit his home, sift through his tax returns, seize his assets and have them returned, has the intestinal fortitude to challenge the legality of 9.31 and is doing so. He hopes that any ordinance coming down the pike will be placed on the ballot so that all have a chance to participate in the process.
Mendocino resident — and former Supervisorial Candidate against Dan Hamburg — Wendy Roberts chose to make her statements after the three-minute comment period had closed, with Supervisor McCowen allowing her to speak for a full five minutes.
Mrs. Roberts made a point of prefacing her comments by indicating, no less than seven times, “these issues are what people have said to me,” “people are concerned,” “I’m hearing from people,” or other similar statements. When the Concerned People peruse a few ordinances, they will be relieved to discover that hard-working city and county attorneys have signed off on dozens of models which address all of their issues: dispensary bans with prescribed distances from schools and youth-oriented facilities, the regulation of edibles and other consumables, the amount of product and cash allowed on dispensary sites and reducing the possibility for diversion of products to the black market.
Mrs. Roberts identified “one overarching issue” that she has, focusing briefly on the murder of Jere Melo. “Marijuana is part of our culture here. I’m not saying marijuana per se caused it.” (Referring to the Melo murder).
“But there’s something about the whole culture here- our permissiveness toward marijuana that is attracting a criminal element to our county,” Roberts continues. “Any community that has pot and dispensaries appears to be permissive. It does attract transients.”
Don’t know whether it was sour grapes or sour diesel that fueled this last remark. Or perhaps Mrs. Roberts was channeling her Inner Colonial for a brief moment:
“And let me tell you: Mendocino is being invaded! This isn’t the worst year. I don’t know that it’s worse than last year. Every time we come up towards harvest season, our little, tiny town is invaded by unclean, drug-using- and I’m not limiting this to your product by any means…”
An audible gasp was heard in the room.
John McCowen broke in. “We’re kind of getting off the track of the…”
Mrs. Roberts pressed on.
“…And that is the other thing people object to — is the more permissive our rules, the more we become a magnet for people who, I don’t even think any of you particularly want around.”
In a way, it really is déjà vu.
“During prohibition 1920-1933, this area continued to be busy and there are lots of interesting stories from this time. It is said that they made Jackass Brandy, a favorite among valley folks. There were distinct paths up Greenwood Road used by the valley people to get their favorite drink.”
— From The Economic History of Anderson Valley
(Researched by Hayes Brennan, written by Sheri Hansen)
Many of those sin-ridden bootleggers and their progeny went on to become the most stalwart, community-minded, successful families in this county. Anderson Valley had its Vinegar Hill, and so did Ukiah. Does anyone doubt why there were so many “resorts” in Mendocino during Prohibition? And though it could be true, that according to Mrs. Roberts, a child may have ingested a fatal dose of improperly labeled cannabis-laden candy, how many individuals will die or be permanently disabled today because of an alcohol-related vehicular accident? And tomorrow? And the next day?
Sherry Glaser-Love, partner in Lovin’ It Cooperative in Mendocino, brought a sense of hope and enthusiasm to the table. She is excited that the Supes would come to the dispensary operators and use their expertise to craft a successful, self-regulating models. “As we see the repeal of Prohibition, health and safety is most important. We need the protection of quality, third-party certifiers. This is more of a health issue than a legal issue. Our number one priority is to make people better.”
Glaser-Love, in her sunny, expansive way, embraces the goodness and welcomes the regulation of medicine and baked goods they offer. “We can easily put together how we’ve done this regulation. We’re all incredibly conscientious people. We are the heart of the Emerald Triangle. We have an opportunity to be premier, to be a beacon for all.”
“People who say, treat us like any other business, hang on!” laughs McCowen at the close of the day, and so does the audience, somewhat sardonically. For all sides, “Be careful for what you wish for” has never been a more apt caveat.
In the garden, Fall approaches. The bronze hills seem to be listening as the first chilly fingers of Sister Autumn leave their kiss upon the land. An elderly couple, hands and clothes sticky with resins, ties up the last heavily laden branch, in preparation for storms they know will come. Phones ring off the hook from buyers trying to see whose crop is coming in earliest. Trusted friends and family prepare for night watches as the plants reach their pinnacle of maturity — and value. Others spend countless hours harvesting the green leaves, taking them home and providing fresh juice to a friend recovering from cancer.
“They’re like the dogs of the plant world,” quips one gray-haired farmer, musing at the thousands of years of domestication cannabis plants have adapted to.
“They just give and give, long after they have died,” says his wife, rubbing a heady-smelling salve onto her crooked, stained fingers.
We’ll gently walk, and sweetly talk,
‘Till the silent moon shines clearly
I’ll grasp thy waist and fondly press,
Swear how I love thee dearly.
Not vernal showers, not budding flowers,
Nor Autumn to a farmer,
So dear can be as thou to me,
My fair, my lovely charmer.
— from “Now Westlin’ Winds” by Robert Burns