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Date: Sun, 20 Oct 2002 14:35:22 -0700
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: Pot in Humboldt County: Both sides of the story
Pot in Humboldt County:
Both sides of the story
First of two parts
by Chris Durant
October 20, 2002
When you ask outsiders what comes to mind when they think of Humboldt
County, a lot of them will say it's the great redwood forests. Or the rugged
coast. Perhaps the Victorian homes of Ferndale and Eureka.
Chances are a lot more of them will say marijuana.
Pot, legal and illegal, is a fact of life on the North Coast.
Songs and stories have been written about it, there have been international
news stories about it and to certain people Humboldt County means only one
It's a problem for some and a cause for others. It's a crime, a community, a
medication, a business, a commodity, a jail sentence and a way of life.
Over the years hundreds of thousands of marijuana plants have been destroyed,
thousands of people have been arrested and millions of dollars have been made.
"Humboldt is the nexus point of the whole growing movement," said Steve
Bloom, senior editor of High Times Magazine, a New York City-based publication
distributed worldwide and dedicated to the complete coverage of marijuana.
"It's kind of like Napa to wine," Bloom said. "Mendo(cino) and Humboldt are
Napa and Sonoma of marijuana country. There's no doubt about it, it's got the
No. 1 reputation in the country. The people who left San Francisco and other
parts in the '60s came up here and started doing the growing and established
the whole growing industry.
"The Northern California growers are greatly responsible even for what's
happening in Amsterdam. Certainly the Dutch are smart enough to realize good
seeds and breeding when they see it. Even the 'Got Humboldt' T-shirts are
because you can get the joke if you have any idea what it's about. If
a pot smoker you may not know the Humboldt reputation, but that's for those to
One man, who wished to remain anonymous, traveled from Los Angeles County
recently to attend the Humboldt Harvest Bash in Eureka, an event centered on
"Automatically, in Los Angeles, if I heard 'I got some Humboldt' from somebody
I'd be like, all right let's go," the man said.
A special Marijuana Eradication Unit was attached to the Humboldt County
Sheriff's Department in 1983. It has found and destroyed more than 40,000
marijuana plants so far this year.
There have been crimes, mostly home invasion-type robberies, where the
perpetrators were after the pot growing in the house. A number of homicides
over the years are also believed to be pot related.
Sgt. Wayne Hanson of the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department Drug
Enforcement Unit said that over the last 20 years the high amount of marijuana
cases that have come through the county have made the courts and the cops
indifferent on the subject.
"Over the years Humboldt County's getting numb on the cases," Hanson said.
"What happens in the county is everyone, even local judges and the probation
office, get kind of numb on all the marijuana cases. A lot of people in
County grow marijuana and when we catch them they get probation: no one
ever spends any time behind bars."
Hanson's generalization shows his frustration, because there are some growers
who are sentenced to hefty jail terms. One that is talked about among growers,
smokers and police is the 1998 indoor grow on Lord Ellis Summit off State
299. Five people were arrested after officers from numerous agencies,
the Drug Enforcement Agency, raided a two-story house and found that it was
completely guttedwith the shell of a normal-looking home outsidejust for
marijuana growing. Around 12,000 plants were found and reports say the
growers were making $50,000 a month on pot. All of the people involved got a
minimum sentence of 20 years in state prison. It is the biggest indoor bust in
A Humboldt County native who has been a part of the marijuana growing
community for more than 10 years said the reputation has always been there.
"It's grown here as long as I can remember, as long as anyone can remember,"
said Dave, who used a fictitious name. "Even in the '60s this area was
over the world for the amount of potency that we had compared to everything
A growing crime problem
"In Humboldt County and the other counties people are killed on a regular
for their marijuana," Hanson said. "I get blue in the face at the violent
that we have, even the ones that aren't reported. I look at it as like the
Rush of 1849, when gold is worth so much and people are getting killed.
are in the last 20 to 30 years, because marijuana is $3,000 a pound which
equates to almost what gold is worth."
Bloom agrees with the Old West analogy.
"It's kind of like the Wild West, it's got the reputation of watch out,
and guns. Not that growers are violentbut they're protective, I'm sure.
They've established their turf and territory," Bloom said.
On Sept. 17 the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department responded to a call of an
accidental shooting near Honeydew where a man was shot in the elbow. Upon
investigation the Sheriff's Department learned that six men in their 20s
Monterey area drove up to Honeydew to look for marijuana gardens in the
woods. One was shot, perhaps accidentally. The case is still under
Pot growers don't just stick to farming their own land, but also grow on other
private land and on public lands as well.
"People laugh at me all the time because I say we're here to make Humboldt
County safer," Hanson said. "Over the years people's property rights have been
violated. You can own 40 acres of land, live in LA and come up to, let's say
Honeydew, to enjoy your summer. And you're ordered off your land because
someone was trespassing, growing dope on your land."
When the unit finds an unmanned garden on someone's property or public lands
they decide whether to stake it out and wait for the farmer to return.
"It's common knowledge that we do stake out marijuana grows," Hanson said.
"We confirm them, deploy officers and wait for a suspect to come in and either
tend their plants or show some sort of cultivation. They're videotaped and
As of Oct. 1, the unit had made 74 arrests so for this year and along with
arrests, 115 firearms have been confiscated.
"I've found stolen ones (firearms), fully autos, silencers," Hanson said.
violent thing. This year we've recovered stolen vehicles and stolen
not a victimless crime some people say it is, which is kind of irritating."
Make it legal?
Dave said if you decriminalize marijuana the crime will go away.
"The crime is because it's illegal," Dave said. "Any time you have
that, where it's worth more than its weight in gold, people are going to
And if people want it there's always going to be someone out there who will go
that extra step and break the law to get it. It's just going to be that way
legal. Until everyone can grow it legally in their back yard and there's no
to take it because it's easier to grow it, there will still be crime involved."
Getting busted doesn't mean a grower necessarily is going to stop.
"If they're outdoor growers they're starting their next garden within a
being put on probation," Dave said. "If they're indoor growers they're
not going to start it in their house because their probation officer will
on them. But if they have the knowledge and they know they can harvest big
indoor every three months why wouldn't they put their knowledge to work at
someone else's house?"
The environmental impact
Marijuana "grows," especially rural indoor grows, bring with them a lot of
"We see it all the time. We get (the Department of) Environmental Health
involved," said Hanson. "Most of the indoors in rural areas are powered by
generators. The people change the oil in the generators and it goes right
ground, which goes into the streams, which goes into the rivers. The diesel
have leaks and spillages, it goes into the ground and into the creeks. Then
there's rat poison they put out because rats eat marijuana, and all the
that they use."
Hanson said every year there are structure fires in rural areas caused by
malfunctioning equipment in indoor marijuana grows.
Dave said most growers don't care about the havoc they wreak on the
environment, just the money they will make.
"A lot of times it's because people don't take care of their generators," Dave
said. "They have a leaky generator leaking oils and fuel into the water system
which basically comes back into their house because they're all running off
According to Dave, a lot of the growers have switched to propane generators
because they're quieter, not for the environmental reasons.
"It's all about money," Dave said. "They're making the money, they don't care
about destroying a little bit of water here and there. They don't look at
it in the
big picture that in 20 years of 100 people leaking a couple drops of oil a
the creek, in 100 years it's going to kill every fish in the area."
"A lot of these growers are making literally millions of dollars a year.
And people just don't realize it," Hanson said.
He described a case last year in which one grower had a new Dodge Viper, a
new Ford Excursion diesel, a new speed boat and two Harley Davidson
"His monthly vehicle payment was like $12,000 a month and he's showing
(yearly) income at around $40,000 to the IRS," Hanson said.
Dave said multiple millions of dollars can be made every year just from the
grown in Humboldt County.
"It's worth more than gold," Dave confirmed. "You figure, depending on who you
know, street price for an eighth of an ounce is anywhere between $40 and $60.
For an ounce it's anywhere between $250 and $300, quarter-pounds $800 and
$1,000, pounds between $3,500 and $4,000. Depending on who you know.
There's a lot of money to be made, there's thousands and thousands of pounds
coming out of here every year."
Targeting commercial growers
"Three-hundred and sixty-five days a year we eradicate marijuana," Hanson
said. "Because the county of Humboldt has such a large marijuana problem, I do
green marijuana only. But if it's just like a meth lab or something like
steer them in the right direction to get a hold of the local drug Task
takes care of the white dope problem."
Agent Ron Prose of the Humboldt County Drug Task Force said his unit mostly
comes across marijuana when an agency, like the California Highway Patrol,
makes a stop and the driver is transporting the drug. They have also been part
of some big indoor busts in McKinleyville.
"If it comes our way we're not going to turn it down," Prose said.
The Marijuana Eradication Unit, also known as the Drug Enforcement Unit or
Team, for the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department is run by Hanson with two
full-time deputies under him. The unit has been grant-funded since 1983;
Hanson has been the sergeant in charge since 2000. On his days off since 1987,
Hanson has put in some overtime working with the unit.
Hanson said he doesn't go after the small or medicinal growers.
"The only people I target, in investigations or anything else, is the
marijuana growers who are making large sums of profits," Hanson said.
Hanson believes that the unit is a vital asset to the county and the community.
"Some people in the community want the Sheriff's Department Marijuana
Eradication Team to go away and the money to be spent other places," Hanson
said. "My unit, and I harp all the time, has assisted the detectives in
homicide suspects and investigating homicides with our detectives because we
have the extra manpower. If there's a natural disaster the first ones who are
going to respond will be the Drug Enforcement Unit."
Because the unit is mobile and tactical it will be the first on the scene
"Our primary function is marijuana eradication but we're here to assist
needed," Hanson said.
The unit doesn't just eradicate outdoor marijuana but indoor as well.
"If you're living here and your next-door neighbor is growing dope and all you
do is smell the dope every night, because that stuff's kind of pungent, you
pretty sick of that," Hanson said. "We take care of that too. Everyone's
to go indoor. You get three crops a year and it's easier to conceal it."
The Humboldt County Sheriff's Department works hand-in-hand with the Drug
Enforcement Agency, unlike what recently happened in Santa Cruz County when
DEA agents raided a medicinal marijuana farm without consulting local law
"In our larger grows we like to get the DEA involved to get federal
Even though every case is different, Hanson said anywhere between 500 and
1,000 plants can be enough to get the federal government involved.
And yes, the unit subscribes to High Times Magazine.
CAMPing in Humboldt County
The Campaign Against Marijuana Planting is part of the California
Justice. It only operates eight weeks out of the year, from early August
end of September. Agencies that make up CAMP are the Department of Justice,
the California Highway Patrol and the California National Guard.
"What CAMP does is eight weeks during the year they help counties with outdoor
eradication," Hanson said. "With the helicopters and the extra manpower,
because it's quite labor intensive and for officer safety, you have more
the field. They come up to assist us and we direct them where to go. They
contact me and I tell them 'yes I have work for you, meet me at such and such
location and come with me.' So I know where the gardens are; I found them.
They're just here to assist. We do all the paperwork, we do all the
People always get confused with CAMP and the Sheriff's Office because the Drug
Enforcement Unit is funded through a state grant which supplies a sergeant,
deputies, my secretary and three 4 by 4 vehicles. People always get confused,
like one of our local supervisors; if the grant went away, CAMP's still
They're a separate entity with separate funding, so say if our grant went away
and people don't like CAMP coming into Humboldt County because it's
sensitiveCAMP's still coming."
CAMP is nationally known, especially among the marijuana community.
"On the political front there's the CAMP and things like that but it seems
from what I can tell, it's a really strong community here that has banded
together over the years to fight back the government's efforts to stop them
doing what they've decided to do in this area of the world," Bloom said.
According to Dave, growers are well aware of CAMP's movements when the
agency is in the area.
"CAMP comes out of the sky and they like to take things," Dave said. "A lot of
times they're nice about it and they don't destroy the area but I have seen
places where they destroyed the entire area. I've seen them make a landing
pad for the helicopter in the middle of the woods; that's destroying the
environment just as much as the people who are out there. They're here to do a
job; I can understand why, and I don't dislike them personally for what
doing because it is illegal."
Dave described a time when he was tending to plants in the woods and he heard
the CAMP helicopter coming. He had a path already made and hid in a hole he'd
dug under a log. The helicopter kept going.
"It is a game," Dave said. "When that 'copter comes over your head in the
woods the adrenaline hits and it's like cat and mouse, you got to run and
That's the way most of the people in this area look at it."
(Monday - What does Humboldt County have that attracts marijuana growers?)
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