"It inevitably leads to the big pharmaceutical companies. It leads to
the private prisons industry. No matter what, it leads to
anti-American politicians who want to lock up Americans
for something that is nobody's business in the first place.
The wasteful, needless and sometimes comedic campaign against
pot will some day be the butt of jokes, but right now the jokers
still have the stage and are in office."
--- Tim King Aug 3, 2009 Salem-News.com
by Becky Johnson
August 30, 2009
Santa Cruz, Ca. -- What happens in a world where the majority of the population in California no longer believes that marijuana is a dangerous, addictive drug? Where the majority are convinced that some people do benefit from using the herb medicinally? And what happens when the general public starts to doubt the need for helicopter surveillance, SWAT-like teams involving local, state and federal agencies , hundreds of personnel and long, expensive incarcerations to wage war on tiny, scattered gardens in the woods?
You hold a press conference and blame it on violent, armed, illegal, Mexican, foreigners who are polluting our forests with pesticides, fertilizers, diverting streams, leaving human waste, mountains of litter, on our public lands, and threatening hikers as part of a criminal conspiracy directed by Mexican Drug Cartels.
Case in point: The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, California National Guard, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and other law enforcement and land management agencies on July 22 held a press conference to report on Operation S.O.S. (Save our Sierra). Operation S.O.S. was an effort conducted throughout Fresno County including the Sierra National Forest which, they say, led to eradication of over 400,000 marijuana plants totaling a value of over $1.1 billion dollars. 88 arrests were made and 32 weapons seized. 87 of the 88 individuals charged were Mexican nationals.
Mike Rhodes, editor of the Community Alliance Newspaper in Fresno, California attended the July 22nd press conference held by Fresno County Sheriff Margret Mims featuring a visit from Federal Office of National Drug Control Policy head, Gil Kerlikowske. Here is his report which can be found online at: http://www.fresnoalliance.com/articles_sept_2009.htm#Drug_Wars
The Economy Goes "Up in Smoke": What's Really Behind Fresno's Drug Wars?
By Mike Rhodes July 25 2009
"Marijuana is dangerous, it has no medicinal benefit and that is why it is a Schedule 1 drug in the Controlled Substances Act. If you look at the number of people that call hotlines across the country, not just here in California, for help because of addiction, you clearly see that marijuana is, if not at the top depending on location, very close to the top."
--Gil Kerlikowske, July 22, 2009
Fresno, CA. -- Fresno County has been a war zone this summer as multiple government agencies work to eradicate marijuana in the Sierra Mountains and shut down a medical marijuana dispensary in the City of Fresno. Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (aka the drug czar), even came to town to observe the large-scale operations in the mountains. Kerlikowske and Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims held a press conference in July to announce Operation Save Our Sierra, which has now resulted in 91 arrests and approximately $1.6 billion worth of marijuana plants seized.
According to the Fresno County Farm Bureau, grapes are listed as the No. 1 agricultural crop in this county, with an annual value of $723 million. Almonds are second at $591 million. Marijuana, if legal, would be listed on the Farm Bureau Web site as the No. 1 agricultural crop in Fresno County, far exceeding the value of grapes and almonds combined.
Sheriff's officials said they have confiscated more than 400,000 plants in Fresno County this year. Last year, 137,409 plants were destroyed. That makes Fresno County one of the top marijuana producing counties in the state (or at least a county where a lot of marijuana plants have been confiscated). Last year, Lake County was No. 1 with 499,508 plants seized and Tulare County (just south of Fresno) was No. 2 with 395,489 plants confiscated.
Mims said Mexican drug cartels are behind most of the marijuana being grown in the Sierras, east of Fresno. But when asked to name any of the cartels involved, she said that she did not want to talk about it. The overwhelming majority of the people arrested in the raids were Mexicans. Mims also emphasized the damage done to the environment by marijuana growers, displaying fertilizers, pesticides and trash left behind at the camps.
Nancy Botwin (not her real name), a marijuana grower at the 3,000-foot elevation in eastern Fresno County with more than 10 years of experience in the business, said she has never seen any sign of the Mexican mafia in the Sierras. Botwin says she has, however, seen plenty of evidence of the SOS campaign. "They have been flying back and forth in their military helicopters for a couple of weeks now," Botwin said. "A couple of days ago, they hovered over a garden a few hundred yards from here. What that did was tell the locals where the pot is at. Sure enough, a local teenager went down and harvested the pot and he was busted later in the day."
In a media advisory sent July 22, it was announced that more than 300 personnel from 17 local, state and federal agencies were involved in the operation.
Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (aka the drug czar). The new drug czar has promised to end the war on drugs, but this year’s budget actually increases spending for interdiction.
Botwin says most of the people she knows are growing "legal" medical marijuana. Kerlikowske, when questioned if he considered marijuana a dangerous drug that should demand the level of resources in this campaign, said that "marijuana is dangerous, it has no medicinal benefit and that is why it is a Schedule 1 drug in the Controlled Substances Act. If you look at the number of people that call hotlines across the country, not just here in California, for help because of addiction, you clearly see that marijuana is, if not at the top depending on location, very close to the top."
Botwin thinks we are all losers in the "War on Drugs." She said that "they are cutting back resources to our schools, reducing county employees' hours, our healthcare system is going to hell in a hand basket and they have the audacity to waste taxpayer money on this so-called SOS campaign. Why is preventing a cancer patient from getting medicine to stop his or her suffering so important to these people? I think they are just trying to justify their bloated budgets by blaming it on Mexican drug cartels."
The argument about environmental degradation to public lands did not impress Botwin either. "I think that is just BS. They are crying crocodile tears over a minor problem. They [?] spread pesticides from one side of the San Joaquin Valley to the other, it drifts into schools, it causes birth defects, and where is Sheriff Mims and the drug czar when that is happening? In fact, it is right-wing zealots like those behind Operation SOS who are screaming to 'Turn on the Pumps,' which would probably bring about the loss of an entire species of fish. It is just all so hypocritical."
The drug wars are also playing out on another front. The City of Fresno filed a lawsuit against a Tower District medical marijuana dispensary. In the complaint, the city claims we will "suffer irreparable harm and injury by the maintenance of conditions with the City that violate the FMC [Fresno Municipal Code]." The City of Fresno does have a provision for legal medical marijuana dispensaries. The ordinance says the facilities will be allowed only if they are "consistent with state and federal law."
When in Fresno, I asked Kerlikowske if a medical marijuana dispensary would violate federal law. He said that he expected the attorney general to issue new guidelines soon that will clarify the situation. In February 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that states should be allowed to make their own rules on medical marijuana and that they would end raids on pot dispensaries in California. "What the president said during the campaign, you'll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we'll be doing here in law enforcement," he said. "What he said during the campaign is now American policy."
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims held a press conference to announce operation Save our Sierra, which has now resulted in 91 arrests and approximately $1.6 billion worth of marijuana plants seized.
The Los Angeles Times announced in March "that the Justice Department has no plans to prosecute pot dispensaries that are operating legally under state laws in California and a dozen other states-a development that medical marijuana advocates and civil libertarians hailed as a sweeping change in federal drug policy."
Somehow, Fresno did not get the memo and instead filed a lawsuit against the dispensary at 210 E. Olive Ave. saying it is "a public nuisance and threat to public health and safety." The City of Oakland, on the other hand, passed Measure F in July 2009 that authorizes the city to impose a 1.8% tax on the gross receipts of "cannabis businesses" located in the city. The city estimates that it will raise $294,000 in additional tax revenue in 2010 as a result of Measure F passing. It passed by an 80%-20% vote.
When asked why Fresno is taking such a hostile approach to medical marijuana, nobody at City Hall would comment.