The Pot Republic

Interview Tom Allman

Tom Allman

Sheriff of Mendocino County, Calif., Allman has developed an innovative -- and controversial -- program to regulate the growing of legal medical marijuana while continuing to eradicate illegal plants. This is an edited transcript drawn from two interviews conducted on Oct. 18, 2010 and March 7, 2011.

So first I want to talk about the regulations that you're working on for medical marijuana in the county. Tell me kind of roughly what those regulations are.

The regulations that we have now are a result of lessons learned from 14 years of dealing with Proposition 215. When Proposition 215 was passed, there were a lot of unintended consequences, good and bad. ...

“If we can remove the gray, if we can remove the inconsistencies, if we can have people not confused about the marijuana laws, then I have succeeded.”

The Board of Supervisors who sets the local county policy has looked at the problems that we have on both sides -- the law enforcement sides and on the medical marijuana patients and caregiver sides -- to say how can we knock the rough edges off this? How can we make it all smoother? ...

We have two types of medical marijuana grows. We have the individuals, medical marijuana patients. It's dependent upon a doctor to recommend how many plants, and ... the person can follow that recommendation up to having 25 plants on any taxable parcel. If you have a 5-acre parcel and your doctor says you can have 25 plants, you can have 25 plants. If you have a 180-acre parcel and your doctor says you can have 50 plants, you can have 25 plants, because 25 is a maximum pretaxable parcel.

And the reason for that is we realize there had to be some type of limit on the amount of marijuana being grown. Otherwise it was going to be grown from property line to property line. And it was causing great public safety issues, whether it was crime, whether it was the smell, whether it was just the calls for service that our 911 center was getting.

So what the Board of Supervisors did was pass an ordinance last year that basically said 25 plants per parcel; there has to be at least a 6-foot fence with a lockable gate around it. And that's for the medical marijuana patient, the individual patient.

Now, as far as a cooperative goes, what our attorney general has done, Jerry Brown, is three years ago he issued 11-page attorney general guidelines, and this guideline basically states all right, Proposition 215 didn't clearly define what a marijuana cooperative is. ...

What the cooperative is in Mendocino County is, if you have at least four patients that can grow 25 plants per patient and you have a 5-acre parcel and you have a 6-foot fence with a lockable gate and you can prove to the sheriff's office that you're not stealing or illegally diverting water or electricity, and that with the marijuana that's being cultivated it is not going to be visible from any public highway or street or road, then you're going to be able to form a cooperative that works with the sheriff's office on the medical grow.

The very first thing you have to do is you have to fill out an application -- I believe it's seven pages -- to the sheriff's office that states who you are, where you're going to be doing your cooperative, who are the other patients, provide copies of their doctors' recommendations. And then this would be given to the sheriff's office along with payment of $1,050. That money is for us to be able to assign a deputy sheriff or a sergeant to investigate this cooperative to say is everything on the up-and-up here. You know, is it people from Los Angeles who just want to come up here and do whatever, or does it actually involve local people that are trying to be within the boundaries of the law?

So once they pay that $1,050, their permit is either approved or disapproved. And whether it's disapproved or not, they still don't get their money back, because $1,050 is for us to expend our time to do the research. ...

And so once that application is approved, then the applicant is allowed to come in here and buy up to 99 of the plastic zip ties that have serial numbers on them that designate it as a legitimate medical marijuana plant. He can buy up to 99 of those at $25 apiece. Once he or she has those, then they go and they place them on their marijuana plants.

And in theory, that's the process to become a cooperative, but then the additional is they have to pay to have the sheriff's office or a representative show up at their house once a month and inspect. And when I say inspect, [I mean] make sure that they're still growing within the boundaries, that they're still not illegally diverting water or electricity, that the plants are not visible from the highway or road -- all the rules that we started with. What the monthly inspection is for is to make sure they're still complying, so that's an extra $600, $700 a month for these people.

So I would imagine by the end of the summer, when they're all done with their cooperative, then in government fees for the application, for the zip ties, for the inspection and so forth, there's going to be between $7,500 and $10,000 per spot. I think we're at 14 people [who] have successfully completed their application, and they were given permits to grow within the guidelines that the attorney general set. ...

Tell me more about the tagging. Is this unique? Are there any other counties doing the tagging program that you started up?

I'm not aware of any other counties or cities doing a zip tie. The zip-tie operation that we are facilitating is a program that allows a person who has an original copy of their doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana to come into the sheriff's office and purchase at $25 apiece plastic zip ties. ... And each year the zip ties are a different color. So this is a color that we've used previously, and this is a training zip tie. ...

What the zip tie does is in a roundabout way represents a prescription bottle, because a prescription bottle in someone's house has a person's name, what the prescription is, who the doctor is and so forth. If a person has, let's say, OxyContin, a highly addictive drug, in their house and it's not in a prescription bottle, chances are if law enforcement finds it, they'll take the OxyContin, and they'll arrest the person. However, if the OxyContin is in a recommendation [from a physician], a prescription bottle, and all the information's there, then the law enforcement officer doesn't get involved in that. ...

Now, have there been people who have misused the zip-tie process? Well, of course, and one of the things that we ask for our deputy sheriffs to do is use common sense and make sure that people aren't trying to counterfeit zip ties or to work outside of the boundaries of law, because we're trying to make the law work as the law has been passed by the voters and the courts have interpreted the law.

If law enforcement continues to ignore what the voters' intention was, and if law enforcement continues to ignore what the courts have mandated, then law enforcement is going to find itself on the losing end of a battle.

And I don't want to be the first sheriff who writes a check to somebody for cutting down legitimate medical marijuana from a patient or caregiver. I want to do everything I can to allow that person the comfort to say, "Well, if I'm not here at the house, if I have to go downtown for a gallon of milk and the cops come and go in my backyard and they see my zip ties, they're not going to cut down my medical marijuana plants; they're going to get in their car, and they're going to drive away."

So that's what this represents. It's been very successful. When I say successful, I'm not talking about just the financial aspect of it. I'm talking about the trust and the relationship being built between the medical marijuana community and law enforcement. We're not the only law enforcement game in this county. We have three city police departments. We have the State Department of Justice. We have the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration]. We have the FBI. We have all these other entities that one way or the other have some kind of legal reason to come to our county and investigate. And at this point, with only one or two exceptions, I think these other entities have acknowledged what we're trying to do to make it work. So that's where we are.

Can you tell me about the financial success of the zip-tie program?

The zip-tie program, the very first year we did it was 2007, and we did not charge anybody for anything, because what I wanted to do was see where the bumps and bruises are on this program. ... In 2008 it didn't work with the Board of Supervisors. There were many other issues on the table, and it really never came in front of them, so no zip ties were issued in 2008. But in January 2009 I went to the board to say: "I'd really like to get this program off the ground. I'd like to see if we can sell these for $25 apiece to people who want to be voluntarily compliant." ...

So in 2009 we started selling, and we did right at $35,000 worth of zip ties. Now, I know in the whole scheme of things, if you look at the amount of marijuana plants we have in this county and the number of zip ties that we sold, you would say, well, that's just a drop in the bucket. And I would say you're right.

So this year, of the voluntary zip ties, we've sold right at $110,000 worth. And that figure, $110,000, is very important, because that represents the cost of putting one deputy sheriff on the road. ... That's a great thing. ...

I want to give people comfort in growing medical marijuana, and this is actually more important than the money aspect. I want my deputy sheriffs to only have to spend five minutes in that medical marijuana garden as opposed to spending two hours where you go in, you look at the recommendation, you try to get in touch with the doctor, you talk to the patient. ... We don't have the staffing for that. So not only do the medical marijuana zip ties provide income for the county; more importantly, they save us an incredible amount of time from unnecessary investigations. ...

[What are] your expectations for the zip-tie program in 2011?

In 2011 we expect to utilize the zip-tie program to bring in probably a quarter-million dollars for the county. And when I say a quarter-million dollars, I'm not just talking about for the sheriff's office. Whether it's through planning and building and getting houses approved through the planning and building permit and licensing, whether it's requiring people to pay the government to certify scales that are going to be used for weighing, that's happening right now. We're trying to make sure that the business requirements for other businesses are the same business requirements for medical marijuana businesses. So it's working.

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." And to those people I just say, listen. The voters have passed the law; we're only trying to make it work. And 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. ...

[What are your ultimate goals?]

One of the goals that I see as sheriff is removing the gray area for marijuana and turning it into a black line, because so many people really and truly don't know what the law is. They don't understand that some marijuana is illegal. And there's some people who are so anti-marijuana that they don't understand that some marijuana is legal. So what the role of the sheriff is in this situation is to take away the gray area and define it into a black-and-white. ...

I want to make sure you understand what our eradication numbers are. In 2009 we eradicated 541,000 plants. In 2010, I think the final numbers are going to be right at 700,000 plants. And now in 2011 we're going to see probably a larger plant count of maybe 750,000 plants. So we're eradicating this amount of marijuana on one hand, and on the other hand we're working with people who want to follow the law and make it work for their patients and for themselves. If I could just paraphrase it, what we're trying to do, it's turning the gray into black. ...

Last year I used $5,000 from our drug asset seizure account and took out a half-page ad in all seven local newspapers to say, "This represents the law that we're going to enforce in Mendocino County this year," and it helped a lot of people. It helped, number one, the medical marijuana patients. It helped the anti-marijuana people say: "Well, OK. If that's what the law is, I guess in October I'll plug my nose when my backyard smells like a skunk and just get over it." And also it helped law enforcement come to a consistent understanding of what the law is.

So it's a tactic that I would truly suggest to others who are faced with the same thing that we're faced with of confusing, convoluted, ambiguous laws and put it in black and white, because how can we as law enforcement expect a citizen to follow the law if no one has really and truly told the citizen what the law is? Ignorance cannot be an excuse. The courts have said that. But I think we're getting close to ignorance being an excuse if so many different laws are being interpreted in so many different ways.

... What sort of pressures are on your department having to [do] both [eradication and the zip-tie program]?

Some very interesting dilemmas are going to be played out this year and next year of "Let's use federal money." For example, ... the federal funds for this county are very important. It allows us to keep our jail operating. It allows us to keep our roads paved. It allows many water facilities to keep their operations going, because what the citizens pay for in their bills is not paying for everything. ...

But one of the big questions is going to be, well, will the federal government continue to give money to a county that is trying to work with medical marijuana patients, or are they going to say: "No, stop it. We don't allow that, so you're not going to get the federal funds"?

So one of the big questions is how does the federal government view this. And to that I would welcome anybody from the federal government to come here and to explain to me what their expectations are, because I do want to explain to them why we're doing what we're doing. We're not a bunch of Cheech and Chong law enforcement officers that are encouraging people to grow marijuana. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I think what you're seeing is you're seeing law enforcement working with the citizens to say: "OK, we think we understand the problem. We think we have a solution. Let's give it a try." And fortunately, because we have so many forward-thinking citizens that say, "All right, well, let's try it," if it works, it works, and if it doesn't, it doesn't.

I'm not married to any idea. Let's just get over this so we can focus on domestic violence; we can focus on methamphetamine; we can focus on burglaries; we can focus on school absences. All these issues come into any society's problems, and they're absolutely part of our social fabric. But until we get marijuana off the front page, medical marijuana off the front page, we don't have the time to work with the domestic violence and the meth and the burglaries and the school absences and so forth. So we're just trying to make the best [use] of our time.

Do you have any concern that this tagging system is literally like a red flag to the DEA? I mean, all they really have to do, right, is find somebody who's got all these yellow tags, because under federal law, even medical marijuana grows are illegal.

When I first became sheriff, I met with the assistant U.S. attorney out of San Francisco. His name was Joseph Russoniello, and he came into my office. We had a great conversation at that table over there, and I explained to him what we're trying to do, and he gave me a handshake deal that as long as we're trying to abide by the law and as long as we're trying to work with the constraints that the courts and the state Legislature and the voters have given to us that the federal government was not going to come in here and go for our medical marijuana people.

Now, have there been medical marijuana patients who have had their medical marijuana seized by the federal government and have been arrested? Yes, there have. And those situations ... are rare, but they have happened. Those situations always involved some kind of outside information from a different part of the state where a much bigger operation has been identified by the federal government, and the local person here is merely a pawn in this larger marijuana operation.

So when those situations occur, there's some people who say: "Aha! I knew it. I knew the federal government was getting a list from you of who your medical marijuana patients are and that's why they're doing what they're doing." And to those people I say, "Prove it. Show me the facts," because that doesn't happen. ...

So growing is legal, but other parts of the process remain very much in the gray area. What is Mendocino County's attitude about transportation, I guess, is the first question, so to speak?

A lot of people wonder what the attitude is for transportation, for dispensing, for everything with marijuana. And to those people I would say there are not black-and-white laws that deal with that. ...

To say that Proposition 215 is living, breathing, is an understatement, because we're just now getting to the point where law enforcement is accepting part of it, and so now let's talk about transportation.

One of the ideas we've had, just like we have serial numbers on zip ties, we may have serial numbers and expiration dates on plastic bags. ... People aren't going to be able to use it over and over and over. The plastic bag would have a serial number and say this plastic bag can be good until, you know, June 30, 2011, and that way if an officer found it on July 1, he'd say, well, this Ziploc bag is expired, and it's not good.

So listen, I don't have all the answers to this. But I sure have a group of citizens and law enforcement officers in this county that give me lots of suggestions. And I love suggestions. ...

It seems to be a pretty well-known fact that there's marijuana being grown on state and federal parks, national parks. What's the scale of the problem, and have you seen that problem increase over the years?

In Northern California we have a lot of national forests, state lands and county parks, and we've seen an explosion of non-local citizens and illegal aliens coming into our national forests and growing marijuana for six months. They arrive in April, middle of April, and they stay in the national forest until the middle of October, and then they harvest their finished product, and they carry it out.

And so what they have is they have people who are financing them that at the end of the season will pay them a $10,000 or $15,000 lump sum for them to have grown marijuana all summer. And we also have the same financiers transporting supplies, food and personal toiletries and so forth to them once a month and dropping it off.

And so what we're seeing in the national forest is we're seeing huge marijuana grows -- huge. I'm talking 500- and 2,000-plant grows by four people in the national forest. And our national forest is huge. It's 915,000 acres.

And there's six counties that surround the Mendocino National Forest. There's Tehama County, Trinity County, Glenn County, Colusa County, Lake County and Mendocino County. And in the past what's happened is it's almost like a pingpong game. The counties go in and eradicate marijuana up to their county border, you know, knock the pingpong ball over to the other county line, and we think that we've solved the problem. Well, we're doing nothing but facilitating the problem. We're allowing the problem to continue to be a burden to us.

So in August 2010, last year, the Board of Supervisors, my Board of Supervisors, met in a very remote area of our county called Covelo, and they were addressing the marijuana issues. And I believe there were 11 citizens who stood up to talk to the Board of Supervisors at the beginning of the meeting, and the first four citizens who stood up to talk to the Board of Supervisors said, "Last year I was shot at in the Mendocino National Forest." Well, this is staggering, you know. I've been a cop 28 years; I probably can count on one hand the number of cops who have been shot at, let alone the number of citizens who have been shot at. So the Board of Supervisors took this very seriously, and they said, "All right, sheriff, what are you going to do about it?"

We're planning a very large operation in the Mendocino National Forest for 2011, and it's going to be a program that is going to not go just to the county line and deal with each county. All six counties are going to be working with each other. ... It's going to be very expensive, in the area of $1.5 million. That being said, I would ask anybody who says it's too much money, I would say, what is a national forest worth? Because if people aren't allowed to use it, if they're too afraid to use it, it's worth nothing to us; it's nothing but a crime zone. It would be the largest crime zone in Northern California.

So we're taking this very seriously. The five other sheriffs and I have all agreed to prioritize this operation, and ... we've been in Washington to work with our federal representatives to say, listen, this isn't just our problem; this is a national forest. ...

Can you show us some of the areas that you're talking about?

Mendocino National Forest is huge, 915,000 acres. And so what our operation is going to be is, with Mendocino County over here on the west and we're working with Trinity County to the north and Tehama and Colusa and Glenn and Lake County, we're really and truly going to focus on the public lands.

One of the problems are going to be the dark green areas that you see, the wilderness area. These have been designated wilderness areas, which legally mean you can't bring a mechanized vehicle, a truck, a QuadRunner [ATV], any type of vehicle -- you couldn't even bring a helicopter in to help sling out all of the marijuana.

What we've done in the past is we've worked with a couple organizations that have pack mules, and we're actually going to be hiring pack mules to go in with our officers and our volunteers to pack the garbage out.

A lot of this marijuana we're not going to pack out. We're going to, in the nonwilderness area, we're going to hopefully just take a chipper in. We're going to chip the marijuana and just dispose it and throw it out in the woods and let it disintegrate and decompose. So it's expensive. It's a very expensive operation. However, if we don't do it next year, I'm going to tell you it's not going to be done.

Why?

Well, one of the reasons it's not going to be done is because everybody has said this is somebody else's problem. And as long as government says we only own part of the problem, then government's not going to accept the whole problem. And I'm telling you this is everybody's problem. And the federal government, they don't have the staffing to go in and take care of what needs to be done. But they do have access to some of the resources, the money. Local agencies, we have the staffing, but we don't have the resources.

So I don't think it's a tough solution to work with the Forest Service, to work with DEA, to work with Bureau of Indian Affairs, because there's a huge amount of property that abuts the wilderness area and the national forest [that] is Indian country, to work with these federal agencies, to say, "We're willing to do our part if you're willing to do your part." ...

[Why are you being so public about the operation?]

There [are] several things we are keeping close to our chest. We are not talking about strategy or tactics, and I am not referring to the dates of the operation [to] anybody.

But as far as the operation, I feel it's very important that we notify the public that we are doing it, and this is for several reasons.

Probably the biggest reason is to let Joe the taxpayer know that we are concerned about the public lands. I've had people come to me and say, "My family has hunted in the Mendocino National Forest for five generations, and we don't go there anymore because every time we go there, we hear shots being fired around, or people have literally walked into our hunting camps and said, 'Get out of here.'"

So we really, truly want [to tell] the public ... to understand we are organizing our efforts, not just as Mendocino County, but we're trying to be very unified in this and letting [them] know what's happening.

The second thing is, let's say that the press that we're getting on this reduces a number of gardens in the Mendocino National Forest by 10 percent this year. Well, it now means that 10 percent of our effort is going to be spent on other gardens. We're not going to take care of it all one year, but it's going to be a three-year operation. But every little bit counts.

Let me ask you something. We spoke to a man today, Mexican; he's been a small-scale grower, and he told us he is not growing anymore. ... He said one big reason is the new people who have come in the last year don't play by the same rules. They've got a lot of guns, and he's got a young daughter, and he doesn't want to be anywhere near that kind of a scene. ... Does that square with what you are aware of?

Hispanics in our community have been welcomed since I have been a little kid here, and they are a very important part of our community.

We're seeing people who come up here, and they are here for eight months of the year. They usually get here in March and they are here through November, and they don't associate with any of the local families. They bring outsiders in, and they are very scary. They are the people who are doing things to our wildlife and to our land that the longtime marijuana growers would never think of. ...

Early last year I received information from the DEA regarding that type of individual that we're talking about. ... [They] said, "Your county is going to be the recipient of this type of grower," so I obviously became very concerned.

Several things came to mind. Number one, additional training for my deputies, and we've spent more money on our training for the deputies in the last two years, I would imagine, [than] we've ever spent because a deputy's life is obviously very important not just to me but to the law-abiding citizens out there. ...

I think it's very important to make sure our flag is in the sand to say: "This is our territory. We're not going to give it up, but we're at a critical turning point. We are at a fork in the road, and if we don't make an aggressive push right now to take back some of our public lands, then we may get to the point of no return."

The name of this operation is [Operation] Full Court Press. It's a very clear basketball analogy because a full court press is pushing the opponent, pushing, just absolutely doing everything you can to get control of the game, and that's where we are. ...

Do you sometimes feel that way that you are walking on this very narrow line between the program to license medical growers and on the other hand about really trying to mobilize this effort to stop this other kind -- I mean, it's a very curious position if no one else in California is in this position that you are.

It's an interesting question. ... We're taking money from people who want to follow the law, ... and we are using that exact money to go after the people who are breaking the law, and that's how I do it. If I could put a subtitle on what we are doing, we are trying to remove the gray area. We are trying to make it black and white. And if we can remove the gray, if we can remove the inconsistencies, if we can have people not confused about the marijuana laws, then I have succeeded. ...

Growers tell us that really 80 percent, 90 percent of the marijuana being grown is not legal. They are not growing within the limits, and they are not selling it to dispensaries; that there is a lot of phony baloney.

That goes along right with my statistics, and I use the phrase it's a single-digit percentage of people who are growing marijuana that are truly getting the marijuana for use in a medical field, medical purpose. OK, that's perfect.

However, here is my devil's advocate with that. Let's say that 90 percent of the people are pushing the envelope and trying to skirt the law because 10 percent of the people are using it for legitimate reasons. ... I am going to say 90 percent of the cars ... right now are speeding. They are not obeying the speed limit, so what happens is law enforcement catches the people who are speeding. We give them tickets; they have their day in court; they either pay their fine or they are found innocent and they go about their day. And that's how law enforcement should deal with this marijuana. ...

There is nothing wrong with asking law enforcement to focus on the people who are abusing laws. I mean, that's what we do for a living, except the slippery slope always allows people to go to the lowest common denominator, and that's where we are.

I grew up in Garberville, southern Humboldt County. I can say this with a straight face. There are people who tell me their pains are relieved with marijuana. So I don't think marijuana really cures anything, but then what they would say is, "Well, aspirin doesn't cure anything," maybe a headache or something like that. So it's a pain relief. So who am I to say they are wrong? I have never smoked this stuff in my entire life, but they say it helps to feel better. OK. ...

There are skeptics about the program, the licensing of growers. ... There are people who say that yeah, you get some people to sign up, but most growers are going to stay in the shadows, because if they didn't get more money, they are not really [afraid] that they are going to get busted, or they don't trust the cops or feds. There is lot of skepticism that this program is really not going to go very far? What do you say to the skeptics? ...

Well, first of all, I don't want you to think that we are doing this program solely to fund law enforcement. If that was the underlying comment or question, that's not true. ...

There is a comfort level. It's like a registration on your car. If you haven't paid your registration and the cop is not behind you, you don't have to worry. If you haven't paid your registration and the cops [are] behind you, [you] are going: "Oh, my gosh, what do I do? He is going to stop me, give me a ticket or tow my car." ...

As far as people say it's not going to work, you know what? Prove me wrong. Listen, the world is not going to end in 2011, and at the end of the year, someone is going to be proven wrong, either me or the skeptics. I am ready for that day.

... Since 215 was passed and since we had this legal concept or semilegal concept of medical marijuana, what has happened to Mendocino County? ...

Well, I asked a friend of mine who lives in a city of 90,000 people, which is also the population of Mendocino County, I asked him -- I said, "All right, your city -- how many hydroponic stores do you have?" ... He said, "Wow, we support one or two." Well, my county has 22 of them. ...

You have billboards for head shops; you have billboards for hydroponics; you have billboards for turkey bags. ... Turkey bags seal in the smell and everything of marijuana. ...

So I am sure that if people at the other parts of our country [where] it's still illegal to possess any marijuana who are saying, "Gosh, what are those California people doing?," but there is an underlying question which we have to ask, and no one is going to answer it except the U.S. Supreme Court, and that is, is marijuana a states' rights issue? And when you have 14 states and the District of Columbia who have said, "We put our approval on it," the voters have passed it -- there is not many cops who voted for 215. I didn't vote for it, but it's the law of the land. Well, my oath is to uphold the constitution of the state of California, so when you have this states' rights issue [that] now you are getting into sooner [or] later, I think the U.S. Supreme Court is going to have to answer that question. I'll be retired by then. ...

What do you say to some people who say all the talk of the Mexican cartels or drug gangs is overblown? ...

I will ask them a question, and I have asked this question: How many drug cartels are too many for a county to have? What's the answer? One, two, 10? Because this county meets all three of those numbers absolutely, and with what the public is going to see this summer with the Operation Full Court Press, they're going to see things the law enforcement has been hearing about in the intelligence circle for years.

And I think that what some people aren't aware of is the absolute truth that cartels have said public lands are going unchecked; public lands have water; public lands are isolated; we won't get caught, here is proof. They've been doing it for years, but this may be the year they put their "Closed" sign up, at least in our county.

When you say cartels, you are talking about groups in Mexico that are responsible for some of this horrific violence we see?

I am talking about organized crime. Organized crime is a group of people who get together to conspire to commit a crime. And right now, am I able to absolutely identify one cartel who has a cartel member in Mendocino County growing? The answer is no. However, there is a lot of intelligence out there that I haven't been briefed.

It's not my concern if a person growing marijuana in the Mendocino National Forest is a cartel member or not, but it is a concern of the prosecution, and it is the concern of public safety. I mean, my job -- when I say it's not my concern, I am not saying I don't care about it. What I am saying is I am not going to make my enforcement actions based on a cartel member or not. But after the summer, when some of these main players end up in the paper and on TV, and this is who this person is, I think some of those naysayers are going to say, "I had no idea."

Because you think this operation will lead to arrest not just of the low-level growers but others. That's what you are suggesting?

The operation this year -- and mark my words on this -- is going to have an impact on drug trafficking organizations' marijuana supply that affects the rest of the nation. You can take that to the bank. ...

Just to be clear that part of that strategy is to make arrests and prosecute cases, don't let people get away like they have over the years, you want to make arrests and prosecute people?

Yes.

Otherwise they are just going to come back next year?

Yes. You are right. And my life isn't rewinding last year and playing this year; it's not how I go through life. Even those all-time deputies who say, "Gosh, why is sheriff doing this? Why is our boss allowing marijuana to be growing with tags or something?," would agree that we have not been winning any kind of strategy against marijuana. I am not calling the warrant drugs; I am not calling [it] that. Any strategy that we have been using -- and I have been in this business for a long time -- it has to work. So why not go with what does work: good investigations, getting people in court, prosecuting them and saying to the rest of the world, "If you do this, this will happen to you"? That's probably why we haven't had a bank robbery here for a week. People know if you rob a bank, you can go to federal prison for a long time. We're saying if you grow [marijuana] on federal property, you are going to go to federal prison for a long time.

And to do that, you have to have the capability to make this arrest; that is, to grab this, you have to have these tactics to be able to get in there and grab these people and get these people who are in the forest?

You are reading Chapter 3; you haven't read Chapter 1 and 2. Chapter 1 and 2 is you have to do an investigation, so when you grab that person in Chapter 3 and they say, "I haven't been here or here; I just walked in; I was going to go look at birds," we can say: "Oh, yeah? Well, let us show you the evidence that puts you in this garden for the last 90 days." So it's a challenge to law enforcement to do their very, very best job, and that's the only reason that the U.S. Attorney's Office is going to take these cases. ...

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Posted July 26, 2011

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