Calif. measure seeks to repeal pot decision


Back in 2000, Mendocino County became an epicenter of the marijuana movement after county voters legalized 25-plant Cannabis gardens. High Times magazine, the bible of Cannabis sativa culture, celebrated the victory on its front page.

But now a backlash is under way in this liberal corner of California.

A measure on Tuesday's election ballot seeks to repeal the 2000 decision, which went beyond California's medical marijuana law by legalizing cultivation by recreational users.

Backers of Measure B say it's needed to reverse a trend that has brought unwanted crime, environmental trouble and cultural change.

Ross Liberty, a Measure B backer, talks of neighborhoods with so many backyard gardens that the harvest would yield $1 million worth of pot. It is, he maintains, nothing short of a magnet for theft and home-invasion robberies.

Big grows can ruin the backwoods, where streams have been diverted to irrigate robust gardens, and diesel has leaked from flimsy tanks.

In town, the culture is far different from when Liberty was growing up in the 1970s. Today, young entrepreneurs depend on weed to support a slacker lifestyle, "hanging around the house until noon in their slippers, making $150K a year, not paying taxes," he said. "It's nouveau welfare. Everyone is dependent on the marijuana economy."

Laura Hamburg, leader of the campaign against Measure B, says Liberty and the measure's other supporters are aiming at the wrong target.

The measure would open the door for law enforcement to crack down on small-scale growers, many of them card-carrying medical marijuana patients, while avoiding the tougher task of busting the massive backwoods gardens that have imported an unwanted criminal element, she contends.

But those big grows are tough to find and tougher to eradicate. When drug agents show up, the gardeners flee. There are no assets to seize, no arrests to be made.

In contrast, a backyard garden or indoor grow operation is easy pickings. And those busts are increasing, along with the amount of property being seized by the county. In 2005, Mendocino County garnered about $100,000 in seized assets from marijuana farmers. In 2007, the total was $1.6 million, Hamburg said.

She says Mendocino County should accept its unusual cultural and climatic conditions, and embrace its marijuana economy, a $1.6-billion-a-year industry, by some estimates.

Hamburg wants to see the county become a new model for how to tax and regulate marijuana gardens.

"Does it make sense to pretend this giant economy doesn't exist?" she said. "You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube."

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