‘In the Kingdom of Mendocino Things Can Get Medieval’
by Carole Brodsky, July 22, 2010
Though there is no fury like a woman scorned, comparable emotions are engendered in Pot People when one of their own is taken down.
Spurred on by what appears to have been a flurry of recent DEA-led raids in the County, Mendocino Medical Marijuana Advisory Board founder Pebbles Trippet called a meeting to discuss the nature of the relationships between local, state and federal drug enforcement personnel, upcoming legal challenges and the viability of the county’s recently approved 9.31 nuisance ordinance.
Due to last week’s raid at the Covelo home of Joy Greenfield — the county’s first applicant for the brand-new, 99-plant exemption — the ordinance, in the words of one observer, “appears to be a stillbirth.”
The gravity of these events drove about 50 people to endure a Ukiah scorcher last Saturday for yet another cannabis confab. Growers, patients and press were in the house, including a reporter and videographer from the Denver Post — sent a second time by their editor to cover the Mendocino cannabis scene.
Sheriff Tom Allman phoned organizers to let the group know he would not be able to make it to the meeting. Supervisor John McCowen and Fifth District supervisorial candidate Dan Hamburg were in attendance.
Les Tarr — the coast’s celebrated radio celeb and musician, provided a little history in his opening remarks. “I’m not a doctor or a scientist. I play blues,” said Tarr — recounting his life with jazz musician parents. “I was around marijuana all my life. I moved to this county in 1970 during the Paraquat Wars. We built Class K houses on our 40-acre parcels. We contributed to society. Then things got radical. National Guardsmen came in to the homesteads, tied up crying children, went through personal belongings,” Tarr reminisced, not entirely fondly.
Tarr’s description of busts in the days gone by wasn’t so different from the story told by Joy Greenfield of Covelo — a grandmother who was told by physicians as a child she would be blind by the age of 50.
Greenfield moved to Mendo from Colorado a few years ago because of her need to use cannabis for glaucoma and congenital eye problems which leave her periodically blind.
“I was excited when I heard about the 99-plant exemption,” said Greenfield, speaking slowly in the sonorous accents of a southern gentlewoman.
She began the process of preparing her property to qualify for the program.
During the application process, Greenfield spoke with several members of the Sheriff’s Department where there was some confusion about the availability of the applications. She was told by MCSO staff that applications were available, but when she tried to pick one up, they were not ready. She was then told they wouldn’t be available until the Supervisors voted in the 9.31 program under County Code.
Meanwhile, Greenfield’s home was being buzzed by helicopters. She was encouraged by MCSO staff to contact Lieutenant Rusty Noe of COMMET, the County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team. “He sat down with me. I told him I was one of the people applying for a permit,” Greenfield explains.
“You realize there is no exemption from the Feds,” Noe warned her. “It’s not COMMET that’s flying around the property. We lease our helicopters to the agents here in Mendocino County,” Noe explained.
Greenfield then went to a member of the County Counsel’s staff and told him she was “having a nervous breakdown.”
“I told him no one has applications. He called Sheriff Allman. I went over and met with him,” she continued. “He told me, ‘Just put a sign on the gate that the application is pending. The Board of Supervisors will vote on it tomorrow. After they vote on it, we’ll hand the applications out’.”
“I put a sign on my front gate and on my garden gate. I spent over $7,000 building a gate around a garden in the middle of nowhere,” she explains.
“I got the application and filled it out. Sheriff [Sergeant] Shannon Barney came up and inspected my property. I drove him all around over the property where he could see there were only these 99 plants that were lined up,” she continued. “I mean, I just laid my whole life out for the Sheriff’s Department.”
Shortly after that, Greenfield was in Ukiah. “The next thing I knew I get a call. It’s a federal agent. They were seizing my property and pulling up my plants. I told him I’ve applied for Sheriff Allman’s permit.”
“We don’t care about Sheriff Allman’s program,” the agent told Greenfield.
When she asked the agent directly why he was taking her property, Greenfield was told they had a search and seizure warrant from a judge. They told her she would not be arrested “at this time.” They told her they were interested in talking about an “acquaintance” of hers, but would not give her any details.
“You’d think you’d have the right to know why people are going through all your belongings and stealing your things,” said Greenfield. “I have no idea who they were interested in,” she noted — pointing out that she knows very few locals by name, and that her primary interests lie in wildlife photography, writing and playing with her grandkids.
“It could have been a lot worse. I could have been arrested on the spot. I felt that I would be safe because of Sheriff Allman’s program,” she notes.
Greenfield says agents were harsh with a volunteer who live son the property and helps her with the grow. “They came in with guns pointed at his head, handcuffed him, put him on the ground and threatened to taser him and asked him, 'Where are the other grow sites?'”
“I’ll tell you folks: that could happen to you. It’s like the Gestapo. My Texas father would turn over in his grave,” says Greenfield.
“They raided, I heard, three places on my road, and yet they drove by other gardens you can see from the road and they didn’t touch them. Here we are folks — one was a mom and pop operation that had 14 plants,” she notes — with a caveat that this information was anecdotal.
“If you’re not for medical marijuana, you’re for the drug cartels,” says Greenfield, who has now received a notice to close her San Diego-based dispensary.
“If medical marijuana is not approved in this state, we will not be able to walk the street and we will not be safe in our homes.”
To date, no charges against Greenfield have been filed.
In addition to Greenfield, Potter Valley resident Jim Hill and Covelo resident Mark Wuerfel, an attorney, spoke about raids on their properties and the progress of their cases.
Hill’s case is inextricably tied to a major state appellate court ruling which is due for a decision this week. It will determine whether cities can ban collectives under a nuisance ordinance scheme. Based on that outcome, Hill's suit against the county regarding the constitutionality of Mendo's 9.31 nuisance ordinance will proceed later this week.
“How do law enforcement protect California state rights when they’re enforcing Federal law?” asks Hill. (More about Hill in the weeks to come.)
Wuerfel spun an even more tangled tale involving multiple raids on his property, a philanthropic effort to dedicate his mega-million-gallon aquifer, in perpetuity, to federally recognized Native American tribes, and DEA theft of documents that Wuerfel alleges would implicate local law enforcement in the theft of cash and cannabis.
A 42-page civil complaint was filed by Wuerfel who is a trial attorney with experience at the federal and state level; he's been charged with 11 felonies in three years. Like Hill, he is suing the county over the county's 9.31 ordinance, which he alleges is illegal under California state law.
Wuerfel states that during a June 17 raid on his property, the DEA wanted to discredit his collective and to steal all the evidence that had been developed for his lawsuit.
Claiming he consulted with concerned parties during the crafting of the nuisance ordinance, Wuerfel communicated his concerns about the legality of the ordinance to the Board of Supervisors and County Counsel. He offered to sit down with county officials, a judge and Supervisor Pinches — whose district Wuerfel resides in — to “hammer this thing out and get this right for the county.” He claimed that he warned the Supervisors that if the ordinance went forward, lawsuits would soon follow.
“Instead of having the meeting with the judge, they sic’d the DEA and the State on me,” he explained.
According to Wuerfel the DEA agents claimed they were exercising their rights under federal law. “Why, if I was being charged with a state crime?” Agents were not able to obtain a search warrant. Wuerfel was the only person arrested.
Wuerfel insists that by stealing his criminal defense files, his Sixth Amendment rights have been violated. “They wanted the evidence of the diversion of cash and processed marijuana for the enrichment of some of the local officers,” he explained.
“They sent my computer to the DEA forensic lab.” Now returned, Wuerfel states that the very documents that prove law enforcement misconduct are the very documents that are missing from his computer.
Wuerfel likens the situation to “a para-police state in direct disrespect of the Holder memo,” referring to Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder who instructed his agents not to interfere with marijuana operations that were legal under state law.
“It’s the Rope-a-Dope,” says Wuerfel. “The Feds lead the way in. They have no probable cause, they answer to no one.”
Wuerfel is convinced there is ongoing, multi-jurisdictional coordination between local, state and federal personnel. “To keep the county out of it, they send the attack dogs — the DEA — but they’re right in behind, doing the eradication, doing the writeup. When I hear the county is not involved, there’s no way,” he bristles, but says he has “no beef with Sheriff Allman.”
Not so when it comes to other local law enforcement.
“When I was in the car, and wouldn’t go along with them stripping my files again, Bruce Smith assaulted me in front of five witness. Nothing’s going to happen with that. It’s intimidation.”
Judge Ron Brown has been working on Wuerfel’s case for the past 18 months. “He has been diligently, fairly trying to get to the bottom of what happened,” Wuerfel stresses.
Wuerfel has filed a written complaint for a criminal investigation with the Attorney General in Sacramento which outlines his allegations of missing evidence, stolen files, a pattern of delaying resolution, concealment of activity and criminal assault. “Those are all serious crimes. Nothing has happened in this county to stop it.”
He claims if one follows state and county law, medical marijuana can be legally grown in unincorporated areas under the Planning and Building Department’s permitted use defined as Agricultural Use Type: Row and Field Crops. “The actual right to grow medical marijuana is almost universal in this county. The key is how many plants and where you are. It can’t be a nuisance if the zoning code says it’s permitted.”
The nuisance ordinance, according to Wuerfel, is “absolutely illegal. We’ll sort that out in a courtroom where there is a judge there, not law enforcement.”
“Whether it’s by a county proposition, or elections, people have to be singled out. If they’re not going to support state and county law, and they’re an elected official, they need to be voted out. Listen to the Attorney General — the top law enforcement officer in the state.”
“If I can’t get my civil rights, with everything I’ve thrown back at ’em, who knows what’s going to happen with you folks,” Wuerfel warned the crowd.
“In the kingdom of Mendocino, things can get medieval,” Wuerfel states. “This is not the way the law works in any county, anywhere.”