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July 24, 2011 18:43

The Pot Republic: One Sheriff's Quietly Radical Experiment

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Last week, federal, state and local law enforcement officials kicked off the largest ever series of raids on illegal marijuana grows in northern California. Code-named "Operation Full Court Press," the raids are spearheaded by Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman.

But as shown in the above clip from The Pot Republic, which airs tomorrow night, Sheriff Allman also has gained attention for an innovative -- and radical -- program his county launched to work with Mendocino County's medical marijuana growers.

Mendocino County is one of the few places nationwide where local officials are experimenting with regulating marijuana production. Under county law, patients with a valid medical marijuana identification card can apply for a license to grow a maximum of 25 plants; in return a patient can purchase up to 25 zip ties for $25 each that will mark their plants as legal. Alternatively, a cooperative of four patients can grow up to 99 plants. The zip ties expire at the end of each calendar year, and any plants grown outdoors must be enclosed by a 6-foot lockable fence. (More information on obtaining the permits and additional requirements can be found on the Mendocino County Sheriff's website.)

"Some people are watching this right now shaking their head saying, 'I can't believe there's a cop in uniform that's working with marijuana people,'" Sheriff Allman told FRONTLINE. "And to those people I just say, listen. The voters have passed the law. ... The longer we build up hurdles and we build up laws, then the more money we're going to be spending in court to ultimately be told to get over it. So the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office, we're over it, and we're trying to make it work."

To date, more than 80 growers have signed up under the sheriff's plan. But as tomorrow night's program shows, the Mendocino County program and other California experiments in regulating medical marijuana have gotten federal attention. Now, in light of the Obama administration's recent pushback on medical marijuana, officials involved in Mendocino's tagging program may be forced to decide whether to shut it down -- or risk jail themselves.

For more on California's medical marijuana business, watch Republic of Cannabis, a series of reports from our partners at the Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED.

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posted july 24, 2011

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