Dan Walters

Dan Walters: It’s pot harvest time, so the annual war resumes

This is harvest time on California’s scenic, sparsely populated North Coast – and that means the half-century-long war between marijuana growers and cops has resumed.

Growers in the Emerald Triangle – southern Humboldt County, northern Mendocino County and southwestern Trinity County – are gathering, processing, packaging and shipping what’s been dubbed “Humboldt Gold,” highly potent, prized and profitable marijuana obtained from unpollinated female plants.

This ritual has been annually repeated, to one extent or another, for a half-century, ever since counterculture types migrated into the region from the Bay Area.

Meanwhile, cops periodically swoop down on “gardens.” Last week, for instance, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office reported that it had raided five greenhouses in the southern part of the county, seized 3,500 plants, arrested the 61-year-old grower and found $37,000 in cash and 283 pounds of marijuana packaged for shipment.

However, growers appear to consider it an acceptable risk of engaging in a very lucrative trade, much like other farmers must cope with weather, and the intensity of anti-pot raids has diminished.

After nearly three decades, the state stopped financing its Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) in 2012, although the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and local cops continue eradication efforts.

The growers and the cops are locked in a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship. As long as marijuana is illegal, it’s expensive and therefore tremendously profitable, while the feds give money to cooperative local police agencies.

And as long as it’s illegal, Humboldt Gold pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into local economies, replacing the once-dominant lumber industry.

Ryan Sundberg, a Humboldt County supervisor, told one journalist, “Most of us all know that marijuana is a huge part of our economy, and many businesses depend on that. It is what it is. For myself, I want it regulated and taxed.”

But were it legalized, prices and profits would decline and the pot cops would be out of business.

Marijuana is semi-legal now, under a 1996 voter-passed measure allowing use for medical reasons, such as pain relief, thus giving rise to shops that operate openly. A 2013 Field Poll found that a majority of Californians believe it should be legalized.

Bills to legalize it further, à la Colorado, have kicked around, but Gov. Jerry Brown and most legislators aren’t budging. Brown signed a bill to reduce pot penalties in 1975 but has a harsher attitude now, asking one interviewer, “how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?”

Meanwhile, several local ballot measures are pressing quasi-legalization this year and a statewide measure may appear in 2016.