There's an old baseball joke. The umpire makes a bad call. "Show us the rule!" his victims yell. The umpire says, "I'll show you the rule as soon as the ink is dry."
In Mendocino County the marijuana rules are never dry.
Wake up one morning and people are saying the rule is 25 plants. Wake up another morning, it's back to six. A week later the feds are saying "zero tolerance."
And all day every day the local forces of law and order are arresting people for whatever amounts. You can think you're legal but here come the cops.
A Fort Bragg family has paid big time for the confusion.
"Yes, I'm nervous. I've been nervous for months," Sara Rexrode admits. "Both of us are. This thing is hanging over our heads and won't go away."
Mrs. Rexrode is an attractive young mother of two. She was born and raised in Fort Bragg. A modest, shy person, she seems surprised to be described as young.
Mrs. Rexrode's husband, Russell Rexrode, is also young and born and raised in Fort Bragg. The Rexrodes have two children, a girl 12 and a boy 5.
Mrs. Rexrode has worked for many years as a restaurant hostess on the Mendocino Coast. Mr. Rexrode does tractor work, but he's one of these ingenious guys who can do a little bit of everything. He used to fish winters, do tractor work summers and hunt whenever he could. The fish are gone, odd job construction has pretty much dried up, and Russell Rexrode, family man, can't possess hunting rifles because he's now a convicted felon. He's still fighting to get the bogus felony reduced so he can get his guns back. The thing this man loved most outside his family was hiking off into the woods with his gun and his hunting dogs, and now he can't do what he loves most because the ink is never dry on the marijuana rules.
The Rexrodes are young but they're feeling old these days. It's hard enough to pay the everyday bills without paying lawyers, too.
The Rexrodes' lawyer bills commenced five years ago when Russell Rexrode turned in a mountain lion cub to Fish and Game. If you come into possession of a mountain lion you're supposed to turn it in because mountain lions are an endangered species, although in Mendocino County they're much less endangered than blue collar family men.
It's a crime to keep a lion cub. Russell Rexrode is not a criminal. He'd already turned the cub in when 17 armed Fish and Game people ran into his house scaring the bejeezus out of his wife and 7-year-old daughter with a lot of wholly unnecessary yelling and carrying on. As the 17 armed Fish and Game people milled around looking for the mountain lion that wasn't there, here comes the Drug Task Force.
Sara Rexrode remembers: "There were so many people running around the house it almost seemed like they couldn't all fit."
The raiders didn't find any mountain lions, but they did find the Rexrode family guns, a burn pile of moldy marijuana stalks and a certain amount of processed bud whose total weight, when the weighing finally ended, added up to the amount Russell Rexrode had legal permission to have.
The cops took the pot, and they took the guns, and they took Russell Rexrode. The press release-dependent local media made it all sound like a major dope house had been busted, made it sound like this attractive young family were criminals.
Russell Rexrode had commenced paying lawyers in 2005 and he's still paying lawyers. He thought he had his medical marijuana paperwork in order back in '05, and he was confident he had his paperwork in order in 2010 when the cops came back a second time.
Russell Rexrode took his 2005 case to a jury. His argument was a simple one: How can the cops get a search warrant for a mountain lion he'd already turned in? How can he be charged with cultivation if he's got the paperwork in order?
The medical marijuana rules, which are always whatever the cops say they are, had changed. Again. Charged with possession of 142 pounds, by the time he got to the jury 142 pounds and become seven and three-quarters pounds. Two of the persons Rexrode was legally permitted to grow for had prescriptions for five pounds each.
The numbers, like the marijuana rules, were infinitely flexible, and the ink on them was never dry.
Rexrode, in 2008, was nevertheless found guilty of felony cultivation and sentenced to 180 days in the Mendocino County Jail. He was also ordered to pay a total $5,000 in fines, some of it for the baby mountain lion he did not possess.
Which makes him a felon. No guns, no vote, and one wonders where the National Rife Association is when a gun guy needs them?
Rexrode appealed. He argued the facts, and the biggest fact was that Fish and Game had descended upon him for possession of a mountain lion that he'd already turned over to them.
The appeal took another two years.
All the while, all the five years the Rexrodes were in court fighting this bogus thing, they were compelled to make more than 60 trips to the County Courthouse in Ukiah from their home in Fort Bragg, a round-trip, any way you measure it, of an hour and a half each way, not to mention the expense of it.
The Rexrodes estimate they've spent $50,000 they don't have to defend themselves.
Being a local person with a wife, kids, and a mortgage, the court allowed Rexrode to stay out of jail while his appeal was wending its way to....
Rejection, as it turned out.
And just a few weeks ago, and just before Rexrode's appeal came back with "Denied" stamped all over it, the Drug Strike Force, ten strong, showed up at the Rexrode home on Gibney Lane to do a "probation check."
Ten cops for a probation check?
Ten cops from the Drug Strike Force which the cops tend to do when they have nothing else to do and they're in the neighborhood.
"They turned the place upside down again," Sara Rexrode says, adding that her daughter, now twelve, "is still afraid of the police from the first raid five years ago."
This time the cops said they found ten pounds of pot. The ten pounds was mostly shake, meaning non-medicinal sticks and stems. Again, the Rexrodes had their paperwork in order. They could legally possess the four pounds they actually had under the rules at the time which, of course, were in the process of another re-write.
Russell Rexrode, the court said, had violated the terms of his probation.
He got another 90 days added on to the 180 days for his original conviction.
The defendant has reconciled himself to, well, getting absolutely screwed. Which is not easy to reconcile to. He is not reconciled to losing his right to hunt. He won't stop fighting that one.
Rexrode might be able to go home with an ankle bracelet instead of sitting non-productively in the County Jail. If he gets approved for an ankle bracelet he could work, and Mrs. Rexrode could work, and they both could work out a childcare schedule for their two kids. The public interest is not served by locking up a non-criminal family man.
The ankle bracelet program can be arbitrarily administered. Remember the case of the nursing mom? A very young pot lady gets jail time. She's just given birth. She's nursing her baby. The judge tells her, "You've still got to go to jail." But I'm nursing my baby, the nursing mom says. "You can apply for the ankle bracelet from jail, the judge says, and your husband can come to the jail every day and get your milk and take it home to your baby while your application is pending."
Mom got out of jail with an ankle bracelet in about a week.
If Rexrode can't get the ankle bracelet, he’ll do three months plus 45 days on his violation of probation. He's going to do it all to avoid any more probation. When he's finished with the legal system he'll be all the way finished.
"We want to finally get all this behind us," Mrs. Rexrode sighs. "It's cost us all this money we'll be paying off for a long time, and it's made nervous wrecks out of both of us."
If the ink on the marijuana rules finally dries the Rexrodes might get some peace.