photo caption: REDWOOD TIMES PHOTO BY SUSAN GARDNER
Garberville Rotary Club President Syd Lehman, left, and host Jim Quast, right, thanked Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman for being the guest speaker at last week’s meeting.
Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman was welcomed by the Garberville Rotary Club last Tuesday at the Healy Senior Center in Redway. Allman, who is a member of the Willits Rotary Club said his father, who passed away in 1987, was a member of the Garberville Club.
Allman began by talking about the failure of Prop. 19.
He said, "It seems to me it’s the only issue that out-of-country and out-of-state journalists want to discuss. They certainly don’t want to talk to me about how we are decreasing the budget, decreasing the jail numbers, or increasing some of the public safety aspects. Marijuana has this sex appeal to it that everybody wants to talk about.
"As the chief law enforcement officer for Mendocino County, it’s the issue that comes up every day. I think we are going to have to get to a point where we just except that it is what it is. Thirty percent of every day is spent dealing with marijuana."
Allman said he did everything he could to fight the passage of Prop. 19 and didn’t support it for many reasons. However, he does agree that something else will be on the ballot in two years, hopefully in a better form.
He said, "I know how important the economic trade of marijuana is in our rural communities. However, we can’t base our opinions just on the economic value of it.
"One of the biggest problems with Prop. 19 were the inconsistencies throughout the state. The fact that 58 counties and 460 cities would be allowed to pass their own ordinances is preposterous."
For example, if you were in possession of two pounds in Humboldt or Mendocino you may not be violating the law. But, if you had more than 8 ounces in Los Angeles, you could be charged, convicted, and sentenced as a felon for something that is perfectly legal in another part of the state.
He said, "Prop. 19 did nothing to give us a consistent law in any location of the state. I was thrilled it failed because it has to be rewritten in a way where we are not going to argue about it."
Two weeks before the election Allman met with the author of Prop. 19, Richard Lee from Oakland, and assured him that if Prop. 19 failed, I would be the very first cop to sit down with him and tell him where the problems were.
Allman said, "They need to get something on the ballot next time that is palatable to all sides. I don’t think anybody is going to say, this is a perfect bill, or this is a perfect proposition, but it’s something we can live with."
He said he realizes it’s strange to hear a member of law enforcement say they want to go out and work with the marijuana growers or that they are supporters of a marijuana initiative. But, he said what they have done in the past has caused such a separation in the two sides that neither extreme is going to win.
Allman said he has spent approximately eight hours with one-on-one conversations with Governor-elect Jerry Brown. He said there is a little known bit of trivia that Jerry Brown honeymooned in Whale Gulch at the home of his political science professor from Berkeley. Brown has assured Allman that he will be returning to the North Coast to discuss where we are going with marijuana.
He said, "The realistic approach is that in Mendocino County at last count there are 18 different agencies, whether it’s state, local, or federal that have the legal authority to enforce marijuana laws in California."
Allman’s five-year plan is to get marijuana off the front page of the newspapers. He said it’s time for law enforcement officers to be able to spend time getting other things accomplished.
He said, "I want to make it clear that I am not saying that we should openly endorse marijuana and pretend it doesn’t have negative side affects, because it does. On my desk, I have five unsolved homicides from the last two years that were bodies found in marijuana gardens."
The question was raised about the apparent increase in home invasion robberies.
Allman responded by saying, "I have read the article in High Times Magazine that said, you can go to the Emerald Triangle, drive up a dirt road, and if there is a locked gate walk around it and go on up and you will find marijuana."
He told the story of the most classic example about six college kids from Sacramento State. They were drinking one night and reading High Times Magazine and decided to drive up to this area. They turned west on Branscomb Road and eventually up a dirt driveway and stole five "very sick" marijuana plants. Law enforcement received a call and arrested all six. Two of them had full-ride scholarships and two are now in prison.
Allman said, "I think if we can all agree that marijuana equals money and that large amounts of money equals greed, then we can agree that greed leads to violence."
Allman said they just sentenced someone to 63 years in prison for seven home invasion robberies. We as taxpayers are going to do nothing but pay for his medical care and food for the rest of his life -- all because of greed.
One of the first things people said that if Prop. 19 passed it would severely drop the price of marijuana.
Allman said, "In April of this year we arrested a guy from Savannah, Georgia who had been coming to Mendocino County for the past 5-6 years. He would by 10 pounds of marijuana at $1,500 a pound and sell it for $4,500 a pound. If you think that Prop. 19 would have lowered the value of marijuana in Savannah, Georgia by one dime we’re kidding ourselves. All it would do is lower the wholesale value on this side. The middle-men would not pass these savings on to their customers, and the value in Savannah, Georgia would have remained the same."
The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that clearly states there are only 25 marijuana plants per taxable parcel allowed for medicinal use. This ordinance allows for a cooperative of four people or more to grow 99 plants if they come into the Sheriff’s office and file an application, which costs $1,500. This fee allows authorities to check to make sure the parcel is more than five acres, that they are not stealing water or power, or causing environmental degradation. Then, if their application is approved they have to buy the plastic zip ties for $25 a piece.
By the time they grow their 99 plants, they have paid the county almost $5,000 in fees. Then, they have to pay the Sheriff’s Department once a month to come out and check to make sure they are in compliance with the ordinance. So far, no one has complained about the charges and have agreed that this is the cost of doing business. Last year, Mendocino County raised $130,000 with this program.
United States Attorney General Eric Holder has stated very clearly that if you are following your state guidelines regarding medical marijuana, they will not get involved. Fifteen states, plus the District of Columbia, have approved medical marijuana.
Allman said, "Some people interpreted this as saying that the feds are not going to come after marijuana. Nothing could be further from the truth. Regarding Prop. 19 Holder very clearly stated that if the state approves recreational marijuana the federal government would not recognize it. That sent a very clear message just three weeks before the election. That was around the same time Governor Schwarzenegger signed the less-than-an-ounce law. These things all helped to defeat the proposition."
Mendocino County pays to house 305 inmates a day serving almost 1,000 meals a day, and provides them with clothing, and medical care at a cost of $77 per inmate, per day. The jail is almost 100% supported with taxpayer money, with a yearly budget of $9.5 million.
With the increase in technology the county has been able to expand and improve their ankle bracelet program, which means fewer people in jail for non-violent crimes. This allows people to continue to work and pay their fines and hopefully support themselves and provide for their families. The newer GPS systems can be preset to establish boundaries for those wearing them. For example, if someone is not supposed to go within 100 yards of a school, these perimeters can be set alerting law enforcement if this boundary is crossed.
Bracelet wearers are randomly checked twice a month and tested for drug use. If someone violates the ankle bracelet program rules, it is a minimum of five years before they can take part again.
Six counties surround Mendocino National Forest. Up until recently there has been almost no marijuana enforcement on these forestlands. This past year the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department has been involved in three fatal shootings of marijuana growers, with a total of five in Northern California in a five-week period this past summer.
One of Allman’s biggest concerns is the environmental damage being done in our national forests.
He said, "We are seeing poisons being brought in from Mexico that absolutely would equate to DDT that is getting into the water supply. The mice are eating the poison and the birds are eating the mice and dying. We went to one garden this year where there were six carcasses of deer that had not been killed for their meat, but had been eating the marijuana and were killed. Next summer you will see ‘Operation Full-Court Press.’ There has been a full commitment from all stakeholders from all six counties as well as the federal agencies involved. This last year Fresno County’s Operation Trident recovered and recycled 55 miles of black plastic pipe in the Sierra National Forest."
Allman feels very strongly that we need to send a message to anyone who thinks they can grow and poison our national forests, that it will not be quite so easy as in the past.
Methamphetamine is a huge problem everywhere. Allman said the main problem is the availability of pseudoephedrine even though you do have to show identification to purchase it. Mendocino County discovered nine labs last year, where the state of Oregon only found one. Allman believes the reduction in Oregon is due to the fact that they have made pseudoephedrine available by prescription only. He said the cleanup of your basic methamphetamine lab costs around $60,000. Marijuana cleanups cost around $5,000, unless there are major costs for environmental damages.
Allman said, "There’s only so many cleanups we can do before we’re broke. We are chipping away at the meth labs.
"Although, two years ago Mendocino County had the largest ecstasy lab ever discovered just northwest of Willits. We did an asset seizure of $550,000 at that location. That should give you an idea of how much money is involved with this. They were literally putting their sludge into the soil, which was 20 feet from a creek."
Allman says he loves his job and the people he works with and serves and hopes he can continue to work for Mendocino County as their sheriff.