Outlaw pot growers in California fear legalization
REDWAY, Calif. (AP) -- The smell of pot hung heavy in the air as men with dreadlocks and gray beards contemplated a nightmarish possibility in this legendary region of outlaw marijuana growers: legal weed.
If California legalizes marijuana, they say, it will drive down the price of their crop and damage not just their livelihoods but the entire economy along the state's rugged northern coast.
"The legalization of marijuana will be the single most devastating economic event in the long boom-and-bust history of Northern California," said Anna Hamilton, 62, a Humboldt County radio host and musician who said her involvement with marijuana has mostly been limited to smoking it for the past 40 years.
Local residents are so worried that pot farmers came together with officials in Humboldt County for a standing-room-only meeting Tuesday night where civic leaders, activists and growers brainstormed ideas for dealing with the threat. Among the ideas: turning the vast pot gardens of Humboldt County into a destination for marijuana aficionados, with tours and tastings - a sort of Napa Valley of pot.
Many were also enthusiastic about promoting the Humboldt brand of pot. Some discussed forming a cooperative that would enforce high standards for marijuana and stamp the county's finest weed with an official Humboldt seal of approval.
Pot growers are nervous because a measure that could make California the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use will appear on the ballot in November. State officials certified Wednesday that the initiative got enough signatures.
The law, if approved, could have a profound effect on Humboldt County, which has long had a reputation for growing some of the world's best weed.
In recent years, law enforcement agents have seized millions of pot plants worth billions of dollars in Humboldt and neighboring counties. And that is believed to be only a fraction of the crop.
"We've lived with the name association for 30 or 40 years and considered it an embarrassment," said Mark Lovelace, a Humboldt County supervisor. But if legalization does happen, he said, the Humboldt County name becomes the region's single most important asset.
"It's laughable at this point to try to be hush-hush about it," he said.
Humboldt County's reputation as a marijuana mecca began in the 1970s. As pot users began to notice a decline in the quality of Mexican weed, refugees from San Francisco's Summer of Love who moved to the forested mountains along California's conveniently remote North Coast began figuring out better ways to grow their own. The Humboldt name soon became a selling point for marijuana sold on street corners across the country.
These days, the small towns in this region about five hours north of San Francisco are dotted with head shops and garden supply stores.
California is one of 14 states that allow people to grow and use marijuana for medical purposes, but recreational use remains illegal. (And will remain illegal under federal law, regardless of how California votes.)
For decades, the outlaws, rebels and aging hippies of Humboldt County have been hoping for legalization. But now that it appears at hand, many clandestine growers fear it will flood the market with cheap, corporate-grown weed and destroy their way of life.
About 20 pot growers gathered on a patio outside the meeting Tuesday to discuss the dilemma posed by legalized pot. Many wore baseball caps and jeans, just like farmers anywhere else in America. No one addressed anyone else by name, a local custom driven by fear of arrest, but that didn't stop some in the group from lighting up their crop.
Many complained that legalization would put them in the same bind as other small farmers struggling to compete against large-scale agribusinesses.
A dreadlocked younger grower who said he had already been to prison for marijuana objected that no one could replicate the quality of the region's weed. When he was a kid, he said, "Humboldt nuggets - that was like the holy grail."
"Anyone can grow marijuana," he said. "But not everyone can grow the super-heavies, the holy bud."
Under the ballot measure, Californians could possess up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use. They could cultivate gardens up to 25 square feet, which is puny by Humboldt County standards. City and county governments would have the power to tax pot sales.
Some growers Tuesday fantasized about mobs of tourists in limos streaming to the county. Others were not thrilled with the idea of paying taxes on their crop.
Many agreed with the sentiment on a sticker plastered on a pizza joint's cash register: "Save Humboldt County - keep pot illegal."
California may vote on legalizing pot
L.A. County petition signatures are expected to tilt the balance for putting an initiative on the November ballot. Governments' budget crises may help the measure's prospects, some say.
March 23, 2010
Fourteen years after California decided marijuana could be used as a medicine and ignited a national movement, the state is likely to vote on whether to take another step into the vanguard of drug liberalization: legalizing the controversial weed for fun and profit.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles County elections officials must turn in their count of valid signatures collected in the county on a statewide legalization initiative. The number is virtually certain to be enough to qualify the initiative for the November ballot, according to a tally kept by state election officials.
That will once again make California the focal point of the long-stewing argument over marijuana legalization, a debate likely to be a high-dollar brawl between adversaries who believe it could launch or stifle another national trend.
But the debate also will play out against a cultural landscape that has changed substantially, with marijuana moving from dark street corners to neon-lit suburban boutiques. In the months since the Obama administration ordered drug agents to lay off dispensaries, hundreds have opened, putting pot within easy reach of most Californians. Whether voters view this de facto legalization with trepidation or equanimity could shape the outcome.
The measure's supporters hope that this dynamic will shift the debate, allowing them to persuade voters to replace prohibition with controlled sales that could be taxed to help California's cities and counties.
"They already accept that it's out there. They want to see a smart strategy," said Chris Lehane, a top strategist for the initiative.
But John Lovell, a Sacramento lobbyist for law enforcement groups, said he believes that voters will reject that argument.
"Why on Earth would you want to add yet another mind-altering substance to the legal array?" he asked.
California is not alone in weighing legalization. Several state legislatures have considered bills and two other Western states may vote on initiatives. In Nevada, a measure aimed for 2012 would allow state-licensed pot stores. And a campaign in Washington hopes to put a legalization measure on the fall ballot.
To make the ballot, the measure needs 433,971 valid signatures. By Tuesday, it was just 15,000 short. Los Angeles County, where supporters collected 142,246 signatures, is expected to put it over the top.
The initiative's main proponent, Richard Lee, has spent at least $1.3 million, mostly on a professional signature-gathering effort, and has assembled a team of experienced campaign consultants that includes Lehane, a veteran of the Clinton White House. Lee, who owns half a dozen mostly pot-related businesses in Oakland, has said that he hopes to raise as much as $20 million. The last time pot was on the ballot, in 1996, proponents raised $2 million, with most of it from a few wealthy supporters.
Lehane said the campaign would have a major Internet component. Marijuana has a devoted following on the Web. When President Obama held an online town hall meeting after his inauguration, he was barraged with questions about legalization.
"There's the potential to raise significant online resources," he said.
Lovell has been assembling a coalition to defeat the measure. He thinks that he will be able to recruit business leaders because the initiative prohibits discrimination against anyone who uses marijuana, unless it affects job performance.
Lovell said he is not worried about "the deep pockets on that side." He noted that opponents of Proposition 5, which would have let nonviolent drug offenders avoid prison, defeated it in 2008 despite being outspent.
"We don't have to match the other side dollar for dollar," he said.
In that case, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and four former governors denounced the measure. All the major candidates for governor have shunned the pot initiative, including Democrat Jerry Brown, who as governor signed a law in 1975 that dramatically reduced marijuana penalties.
Lehane said the legalization campaign would soon roll out radio ads with former law enforcement officials.
Polls have shown that a slim majority of California voters want to legalize marijuana. Both sides will shape their arguments to take aim at the wavering voters in the middle.
The measure's supporters say the undecided are primarily women in their 30s and 40s with children.
Proponents hope to persuade those voters that it is time for a fresh approach to a drug that is a fact of life in California, where it supports a multibillion-dollar economy. The wisest plan, they argue, is to allow cities and counties to regulate sales and impose taxes to help them escape their budget disasters. Two independent pollsters, Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California and Mark DiCamillo of the Field Poll, said the state's grim financial situation may heighten the measure's appeal.
"Whether voters are really there, whether they want to legalize marijuana, I would probably tend to say no, but given the drastic state of the budget, I don't know," said DiCamillo, calling the issue a wild card. "The climate may actually help it a bit."
Opponents plan to remind voters of the chaos caused by cities and counties struggling with California's medical marijuana law, noting that it had led to the explosive growth in dispensaries in Los Angeles County, where a quarter of the state's voters live.
"It's going to be a crazy quilt of 500 different marijuana nations," Lovell said.
Lehane said the legalization campaign will unveil model ordinances to show voters how it could work and highlight separate state legislation to capture tax revenue from legal sales.
The adversaries will also debate the social costs, disputing the effect prohibition has on marijuana use, drug violence and the role of Mexican cartels.
Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said he hoped to highlight the increase in misdemeanor marijuana arrests, which tripled between 1990 and 2008.
"It really is on a scale that we have never seen," he said.
Opponents will cite a national survey that found an increase in teenagers trying marijuana last year. And they are emphasizing the danger of drugged drivers. In a recent column, Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks cited a 2007 accident in which a driver high on marijuana crashed into a stopped vehicle, killing its driver and critically injuring a California Highway Patrol officer.
related post: legal pot already a californian reality
China 'set to produce more legal highs'
Monday, 29 March 2010
A Sky News investigation uncovered the chain of supply from the factories to British dealers.
Posing as a potential customer, Sky News correspondent Holly Williams contacted a Shanghai-based company and was told by a worker that the company makes both mephedrone and methylone "in batches - 100 kilograms, 200 kilograms, 50 kilograms, whatever the customer wants".
The worker went on to reveal that the company already has five British customers, "two of them big ones".
She said: "One of them orders 50 to 100 kilograms a week. The other one orders 50 kilograms of mephedrone a month, and 40 kilograms of methylone."
Asked whether a British ban on mephedrone would cause problems for their business, the worker said the company was already well prepared.
"We're working on five or six new legal products," she said. "Most of them come from our British customers. They told us how to make the new ones."
Toxicologist Dr John Ramsey told Sky: "We're seeing 10 or 11 new compounds every year coming out now.
"The Chinese chemical industry seems to provide anything at a price. So if somebody here orders something they'll either synthesise it or have it in stock and they'll send it regardless of what it's to be used for."
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is considering a ban on mephedrone, also known as M-Cat or Miaow Miaow, after it was linked to the deaths of a number of young people.
Ministers are expected to receive its report today.