Pot town pushes back against industrial growers

Associated Press Modified: November 3, 2012 at 3:03 pm •  Published: November 3, 2012
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Unlike some other states' medical marijuana laws, California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996 sets no limits on plants or processed marijuana, does not prohibit the sale of excess medical marijuana to other patients or dispensaries, does not require patients or growers to register, and does not lay out which diseases or conditions can be treated with marijuana. When growers get busted, they often claim they are growing for patients.

Based on interviews with hundreds of growers, Silvaggio said even medical marijuana growers usually sell their extra, so the two markets cannot be separated. "Part of the problem with the marijuana economy is it is unregulatable," he said.

Several years ago, people here began realizing that whole blocks of houses had been taken over by illegal growers, said Kevin Hoover, editor of the irreverent weekly newspaper The Arcata Eye.

"We came to realize we weren't really dealing with hippies and the Zig Zag man. It was this industry," said Hoover. "More than the dangers, it was this loss of neighborhood community. You can't have your neighbor take in the paper when you're on vacation. You can't borrow a cup of sugar."

To get their neighborhoods back, more and more people are informing on their neighbors, said Police Chief Tom Chapman.

Police are making progress, but still hardly making a dent.

In 2010 Arcata police served search warrants on six houses and in 2011 that rose to 14. So far this year, police investigated 48 houses, and got warrants to search 17. But only nine produced enough evidence for criminal prosecution. Police had to buy two huge shipping containers to haul off growing equipment.

Driving an unmarked SUV with his guitar in the back seat — he plays in a classic rock band — Chapman points out house after house. One bust produced 750 plants and 13 pounds of processed marijuana. Another was a half block from a grassy playground where kids and dogs romped.

"This is Small Town USA," he said. "The people who live here are a bunch of working folks, salt of the earth, people just trying to get by."

A typical grower, the chief said, is a 20- or 30-something from outside the area, who has moved into a house with an absentee landlord. They pay their rent on time with cash that stinks of marijuana.

"Most of the landlords claim ignorance," he said.

Marnin Robbins has seen a half-dozen houses in his neighborhood raided by police.

"I don't have a problem with marijuana," he said. "But I do have a problem with people turning their houses into factories and bringing a violent element into our neighborhood."

Measure I has no organized opposition. But Mark Sailors, who drives a pedal cab downtown and grows medical marijuana for himself, his wife and his mother, has long felt city attempts to control medicinal cannabis are hypocritical.

"This is just another in a long line of what I call Arcata's medical marijuana Jim Crow laws," Sailors said. "They pay a lot of lip service to being pro-Compassionate Use Act. But all their actions are trying to limit people and discourage the use" of medical marijuana.

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Jeff Barnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/JeffBarnardAP.



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