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Pot Program Still A Mess, Only Bigger

What a difference a year makes.

Last year, reacting to a bone-headed attempt by the County (with the exception of Supervisor John Haschak) to expand marijuana production by an across-the-board 10 percent, growers broke all records to be broke in the history of the local pot industry.

This notable feat was accomplished in the wake of the North Coast Regional Water Board issuing an investigative order that found that our area was already “inundated” with with weed resulting in the ongoing destruction of watersheds.

As I’ve always said, you can’t grow weed without water, so the 2021 sky-high overproduction resulted in further depletion of water supplies during the second year of declared drought emergency orders.

While last year ended with the exit of most of the outside big monied pot businesses, it also triggered the current economic crisis of long-established local businesses, especially those in the unincorporated areas of this county. Almost all small businesses are hurting, some worse than others as suppliers and vendors demand cash on delivery. The real estate market is flooded with homes and properties abandoned by people who have cut a trail to parts unknown. Newspapers are full of legal notices advertising sales on mortgage defaults. 

Even though everyone — growers, non-growers, businesses, and local governments — have historically benefitted from “pot dollars,” no one seems to know or has any ideas about what to do about this mess we now find ourselves in.

Ironically, the Board of Supervisors have been holding more tedious, infertile meetings with same old die-hard attendees espousing their same old grievances, where the ostensible goal is to attempt to disburse millions of dollars in state grants to several hundred folks who signed up nearly six years ago under the failed cannabis ordinance that over 90 percent of growers have avoided like the plague. These monies are earmarked to assist growers in complying with environmental review and other resource regulations, as well as an “equity” program for people who “suffered” from the “War On Drugs.” 

Again, ironically, it was the enforcement of prohibition weed laws that resulted in pot netting thousands of dollars per pound. Most growers looked at it as not “suffering” from the “War On Drugs” but just one of the risks of doing business. It was called the greatest price support system ever created.

Many argue now — and I’m one of them — that those were the good old days when you had a system that actually worked: growers made money, law enforcement made money, government made money, and local economies were stimulated.

And then it all came to crashing and crushing end with legalization epitomized by the cold-cocking blows of Prop 64 and local blundering à la Mendocino County.

I always warned folks, be careful of what you wish for because with legalization comes regulation and everything that goes with it.

Anyway, somebody who has some thoughts on our current dilemma is Sheriff Matt Kendall, who wrote a piece on the ongoing chaos surrounding pot. 

Here’s some excerpt’s from what Kendall had to say. 

Recently I read an article, in which a press release completed by Attorney General’s Office was quoted. I don’t know how many people in Mendocino County read this article however I found it to be a little insulting. This article seemed to be declaring the legalization of marijuana a success in California. Sadly, as I read the article and realized, Sacramento must be a long way from Mendocino County. I began to wonder if the policy makers truly understand what’s going on in rural California. It’s not that they haven’t been told yet it seems they probably aren’t listening. Clearly the roll out of legalized marijuana has been a much different experience for those of us living in the emerald triangle.

Reading this press release made me realize those of us who have seen our county at a time prior to legalization and at a time following it, have a much different view of what has occurred here. I can tell you, as a rural sheriff I feel as if the policy makers came to our county, hit it with a wrecking ball then began praising themselves for offering us a broom to clean up the mess.

The article stated, “California has the largest safe, legal and regulated cannabis market in the world, but unfortunately illegal and unlicensed grows continue to proliferate.” I have not seen a safe, legal, or regulated market in Mendocino County. I doubt the families of the homicide victims murdered in grow sites over the last few years would agree with this statement. I also doubt the legal cultivators, many of whom have poured their life savings into a failing system would agree either.

In 2020 I, along with other Northern California Sheriffs, met in Trinity County with members of the state’s marijuana policy team. During this meeting we asked several questions including, what are the plans for enforcement against drug trafficking organizations as well as how would they deal with the marijuana being diverted to the black market and shipped out of state. We also brought up the struggles of finding personnel and asked who would be handling the enforcement of the massive wave of illegal marijuana which we all knew was coming …

We asked if they had a target number of product production which would supply the needs of legal marijuana within the state. We pointed out the fact that producing beyond market saturation would cause diversions to the black market. The black market would have a negative impact on legal farms and as the prices drop, the violence, environmental impacts and damage to the legal farms would continue and escalate. If the black market isn’t dealt with all legal markets will fail …

Homicides, robberies, and environmental destruction have become the new normal for rural communities. We had two rolling shootouts in the Ukiah and Willits area on highway 101 this year. Drug Trafficking Organizations are not one trick ponies. Once they have established a footing in our rural areas, they bring fentanyl and other hard drugs as well as human trafficking, violence, and intimidation. We are seeing these things occur and continue to occur in our county. We simply can’t have this in Mendocino County. … Sadly, the CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting) program is a shadow of what it once was, we only received 7 days of assistance from them this year. The problem isn’t with boots on the ground, it’s the policies which have restrained us from making true impacts … Little to no enforcement on the illegal market has created the perfect storm for our communities.

We need the state policy makers to step up and provide more personnel for enforcement, also we need them to change the flawed policies which have brought these problems to our communities … Without changes in policies these issues will continue. Reach out to our state leaders and legislators, let them know we have a problem and together we can come together to find a solution.

My only comment on the Sheriff’s cogent piece is: We’ve passed the point of no return with pot regulation. It’s a failed experiment. Pot farming is defaulting — and it will take some time — back into from whence it came, albeit with scaled down balance sheets, because the only market that counts is shaded black.


  1. izzy October 31, 2022

    As the Sheriff pointed out, a lot of other bad stuff has come in the door along with so-called legalization. Unless and until pot is completely decriminalized at the federal and state level, there will always be a black market. For many reasons, that remains an extremely unlikely development at this sorry point in history.

  2. jonah raskin October 31, 2022

    Thanks, Jim. Good story. Is there a way out of this mess?

    • Mark Scaramella October 31, 2022

      Only if the County is mostly eliminated from the process and reverts to a simple zoning/use permit role (for cultivation and retail) and treats pot cultivation as ag. As Pinches proposed early on. Which is about as likely as the County requiring use permits for wine tasting/selling rooms in non-commercially zoned areas.

      • Kirk Vodopals November 1, 2022

        Or about as likely as the County solving the ongoing housing crisis… or actually following through on the goals of Measure B…. Not. Likely. At All. The market will take care of weed.

  3. Lazarus October 31, 2022

    “Many argue now — and I’m one of them — that those were the good old days when you had a system that actually worked: growers made money, law enforcement made money, government made money, and local economies were stimulated.”

    Ah yes, my dear, Just another student of the obvious…
    And this year will likely be the end of the so-called, “Legacy Growers.”

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