Mendocino County voters partially decriminalize marijuana

By Justin Pritchard Associated Press Writer
Thursday November 09, 2000


UKIAH – Voters in Mendocino County decided it’s high time to partially decriminalize their most valuable cash crop — marijuana — in the first such ballot measure in the nation. 

Measure G allows residents of this verdant county on California’s north coast to cultivate up to 25 pot plants apiece. The initiative faced no organized opposition and passed Tuesday with 58 percent of the vote. 

While a handful of liberal college towns such as Berkeley, Ann Arbor, Mich., and Amherst, Mass., have decriminalized smoking marijuana, Mendocino becomes the first community to sanction growing pot, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. 

But is the grass really greener the other side of election day? 

Measure G doesn’t mean marijuana is completely legal here now — state and federal drug laws still apply, as well as the limitation to 25 plants. The perception that locals can grow with impugnity simply is not true. 

“There are people, when we catch them they’re going to give that ’Why are you guys doing this to us’ line,” said Mendocino County Sheriff Tony Craver, who signed a petition to put Measure G on the ballot but ended up opposing the initiative. “I’m worried about the frustration and heartaches it’s going to cause.” 

Law enforcement may not be the only barrier to the county’s green thumbs — pot bandits, sometimes heavily armed, will still raid growing patches. 

“People think they can grow in their front yards and it ain’t gonna happen,” warned John Heubel, 37, a full-bearded Measure G backer who said he harvested 20 plants a year in the past. “They’re still going to get ripped off.” 

Indeed, pot is big and sometimes dangerous business here because Mendocino County is ground zero for some of the most sought-after pot grown to man. It’s not just the quality; this region produces an annual marijuana crop estimated near $1 billion. 

But it wasn’t the commercial growers that pushed Measure G. In fact, some backers say, the big-time operations don’t like Measure G because it will likely increase the local marijuana supply and therefore hurt their profits. 

At present, the potent green bud fetches more than gold: An ounce can cost $400 on the street. 

“I’m sure there were a few growers who kicked in 10 or 20 bucks to the campaign,” said Dan Hamburg, a former Democratic congressman and leading backer of the initiative. “But this thing was not financed by growers, because they like things the way they are.” 

With a mere smattering of opposition, the most vocal from local educators, Measure G backers aired a series of four radio ads. The message in that $7,000 campaign, Hamburg said, was not that pot is a basic human right, but rather that government has no business in a grower’s back yard. 

“This is a political statement,” said Hamburg, whose own pot plot was raided last month, two days after he showed it to a CNN television crew. “It will spread and eventually we’ll stop this harmful and ridiculous war on drugs.”