California’s famous marijuana-producing region, the Emerald Triangle, begins well before you encounter the region of towering redwood trees a few hours north of San Francisco.
Sonoma County, famous as a mecca for foodies seeking cheese, wine aficionados and NASCAR races, also plays host to a sizable cannabis industry.
And what happens when marijuana competes for field space with grapes and cows—two high-impact agricultural products that require much more water and resources for a smaller financial return than the state’s newest cash crop?
Marijuana loses, of course.
This week, county supervisors in Sonoma bowed to pressure from cannabis-fearing farm folk and voted to “ban” marijuana cultivation in rural areas in the county, as the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reported.
One of the reasons why lawmakers and locals are backing a ban rather than, say, regulations—the idea suggested by a lone county supervisor, whose colleagues shot it down—is the specter of crime.
In California, medical-marijuana patients can cultivate a minimum of six plants per person, with gardens of several dozen plants allowed for someone growing for others. And under Prop. 64, approved by voters last month, any adult over 21 is allowed to grow six plants at home.
These people—and anyone else growing marijuana in their home—are crime magnets, according to Sonoma County officials.
“There’s a lot of violence with home invasions… I think the crime element has not been discussed enough,” said county supervisor Shirlee Zane, according to the paper. “People who live in rural residential (areas) have a right to live in a safe community.”
Zane and her colleagues are basing this alarmism on testimony from police. According to Sonoma County sheriffs deputies:
“Lt. Tim Duke of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said 774 crimes between July 2013 and July 2016 have been associated in some way with the sale or distribution of marijuana. And although he could not immediately provide figures, Duke said all home-invasion robberies over that same period were connected to the marijuana trade.”
In other words, a crime significant enough to influence lawmaking is not quite significant enough to be quantified by police—but trust them, however widespread (or minuscule) this problem is, it’s a serious thing.
According to Duke, there were 774 crimes in a three-year span from July 2013 to July 2016 “associated in some way with the sale or distribution of marijuana,” the newspaper reported. How many of these were dealers popped by cops or cars heading to or from the Emerald Triangle pulled over by police wasn’t specified.
Because that’s not important! It’s about those home invasions, however many of them there are.
“With home invasions, regarding marijuana, they are very violent acts,” Duke said. “Usually some type of force is used…we all realize it’s the cash that is the draw for the criminal more than the marijuana itself.”
For the record, cash, rather than marijuana itself, is also the draw for police, who are still allowed to forfeit cash seized in a drug raid and deposit it directly in their own coffers—though recent reforms at least require the person from whom the cash was seized to be charged with a crime, with few exceptions.
A representative from Sonoma County’s District Attorney’s office also mentioned an “increase of crimes associated with out-of-state suspects affiliated with the marijuana industry,” the newspaper reported—but did not offer statistics or specifics.
The fuzzy numbers wouldn’t be an issue if they weren’t leading to concrete policy—and if the blanket ban wasn’t leading marijuana growers wanting to go legit to keep breaking the law.
Growers didn’t dispute that crime is an issue when cultivating cannabis—as crime is, after all, an issue for everyone—but that they still feel leery calling the cops when a problem arises, and bans like Sonoma’s aren’t going to improve things.
Instead, they’re going to encourage weed growers to go deeper underground—where justice is handled without the cops and courts.
“People are going to head right back into the hills, the national forests,” said Joe Munson, a Sonoma County grower. Which may be where police wanted them all along.
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