Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

November 29, 2010
Accidental pot grower ponders the future in Humboldt County

Humboldt 003.JPGLelehnia Du Bois spent her early childhood amid the marijuana fields of California's northern coast. And yet growing pot is the last thing she expected to wind up doing.

"It's pretty scary," says Du Bois, a former fashion model and department store buyer from Southern California who saw her life come full circle. "I'm used to the real business world. And this isn't it."

Du Bois, 40, one of many local residents who shared their stories in Sunday's Sacramento Bee article on challenges for the pot culture of Humboldt County, came to her craft after some compelling life chapters.

Her mother, Carole Du Bois, moved her young daughters to neighboring Trinity County in the 1970s. She immersed them in a lifestyle of growing organic corn, beans, peas, tomatoes and peppers.

Soon after their arrival, her mother broke her back and a younger sister died in horrific car accident after a tumbling boulder caused the vehicle to flip into a river. Du Bois remembers escaping the wreckage and crawling up a rocky slope to summon help.

Her family endured after the tragedy. She took to the rustic setting. Du Bois recalls learning to trim plants in a neighbor's garden - a pot field - when she was 9. And she remembers her mom easing her back pain in the tub at night by smoking a joint.

Du Bois later moved on. She finished growing up in San Diego, where her father lived. She became a model and worked in the fashion retail industry before dabbling in restaurant management and a school of dance.

In 1994, with her mother, then a Humboldt resident, in failing health, Du Bois returned to California's north coast. She studied nursing at the College of the Redwoods and went to work in a seniors care facility while completing her registered nursing studies.

In 1999, she caught a falling patient and ruptured her spine. The accident put her on disability and, for an extended time, in a wheelchair. After years of treatment and pharmaceutical remedies, Du Bois returned to the regional art - growing marijuana - to help ease her pain.

Eventually, the medical marijuana patient was providing some of her perfected "Sweet God" and "Afghani Goo" strains to a former Eureka dispensary, the Hummingbird Healing Center.

Now Humboldt County ponders ways to generate tax revenue and preserve its renowned weed economy by licensing medicinal growers to compete in a thriving, competitive California medical marijuana market. Debate centers over whether the push to compete will favor major growing operations and alter the regional character.

Du Bois personally doesn't see a significant personal future as a pot purveyor. But she hopes the county finds a means for small growers such as herself to pass on their product - and even pay their taxes - on income from legal medical pot cultivation.

"It provides for my medicine," she says of her rediscovered craft. "And I know I'm getting some good medicine."

Pictured: Lelehnia Du Bois with fruits of her harvest. Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com

November 15, 2010
Pot shop operator must move, thankful for 'bumps on the road'

At Sacramento's A Therapeutic Alternative dispensary, Buddy, an aging Jack Russell Terrier with a bum leg, is a soothing prop for pet therapy sessions for medical marijuana users suffering from mental illnesses.

But now Buddy is going to have to find new working quarters - and so is his master - under a new Sacramento medical marijuana ordinance, reported on in Sunday's Sacramento Bee. It will allow up to 38 pot clubs to survive in the capital city, but put strict rules on their operations, and force at least a half a dozen to relocate.

While as many as 32 existing marijuana stores were exempted from rules forbidding dispensaries from near schools, parks or drug treatment centers, any pot shop not already in an area zoned for commercial or industrial uses will have to move - and find a new spot that meets the new guidelines.

Buddy's master, dispensary operator Jeanne Larsson, 44, says it's highly unlikely she will find a new location near their existing perch at H and 30th Street. The area, on the border of Sacramento's Midtown district, is zoned for residences and offices and was recently deemed unfit by the City Council for pot clubs. "It will be virtually impossible for me to stay in Midtown," she says.

But Larsson praises the new city ordinance for preserving the capital's medical pot industry even while she fears "I can't afford the fees and I can't afford to move."

JV_SACPOT 114.JPGSince it opened in 2009, A Therapeutic Alternative has attracted a clientel of patients mostly 35 and over, including many over 50 with serious health issues. "The 18 to 25 year olds are not bursting down my doors," Larsson says.

Besides its pot strains from Mendo Purps to Green Crack and its marijuana edibles and cannabis-enhanced Kush Town Cola offerings, the dispensary has yoga classes for clients ranging from H.I.V. patients to people treating back injuries from car accidents.

Despite her anxieties, Larson expects to eventually find a new location and win city approval to stay somewhere else in Sacramento.

In dealing with medical marijuana patients, she says hears enough about other people's troubles that she's not so worried about her own.

"I get to go home at night being thankful for my problems," she says. "And I'm thankful for the little bumps on the road."

Pictured: Above - Jeanne Larsson at A Therapeutic Alternative. Below - On back deck with Buddy the therapy dog. Jose Luis Villegas/jvillegas@sacbee.com

November 4, 2010
Authorities find massive border tunnel funneling pot to state

Meanwhile, back to the real weed wars.

A day after California voters rejected the Proposition 19 measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use, authorities announced the discovery of a massive tunnel - six football fields long - used to smuggle tons of pot across the border from Mexico.

Read the Associated Press report here and see the video from Reuters below.

November 4, 2010
LIVE CHAT: The Bee's political experts on the election

Join The Bee's team of political experts today beginning at 10 a.m. to recap the local, state and national elections. Be part of the live chat and share your comments or questions.
10 a.m.: Sacramento City Council with Ryan Lillis
10:30 a.m.: Sacramento County sheriff with Sam Stanton
11 a.m.: Arden-Arcade cityhood with Rob Lewis
11:30 a.m.: Governor with Jack Chang
12:30 p.m.: Proposition 19, marijuana, with Peter Hecht
1:30 p.m.: California races with Torey Van Oot
2-3 p.m.: National races with our Head-to-Head team of Pia Lopez and Ben Boychuk

November 3, 2010
It may get very expensive to grow weed in Rancho Cordova

Rancho Cordova's Measure O might as well be Measure Oh No! for local residents who grow their own pot at home.

City voters Tuesday night passed the measure to impose taxes of up to $600 to $900 per square foot on personal marijuana cultivation. The tax means that a medical marijuana user who grows weed in a five-foot by five-foot indoor space could be required to pay an annual local levy of $15,000.

Already marijuana advocates are threatening suit.

"Nobody is going to pay that tax," said Dale Gieringer, California director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. "And if they try to collect the tax, they're going to end up with a court suit on their hands and I think they'll lose."

He said his organization and medical marijuana groups believe Measure O isn't allowed under Proposition 215, the medical marijuana law passed by voters in 1996.

Rancho Cordova Mayor Ken Cooley said before the election that the city was protecting its interests should California voters approve Proposition 19, which would allowed any Californian over 21 to grow marijuana for personal recreational use.

Cooley said the city was already seeing "problems caused in neighborhoods by growing marijuana" under the existing medical pot law.

November 3, 2010
California communities reject Prop 19, but approve pot taxes

Across California Tuesday night, residents of the Golden State voted overwhelmingly to tax and regulate marijuana.

Even as they rejected Proposition 19, voters in at least nine cities passed more than a dozen measures authorizing taxes on local marijuana establishments.

Several measures, such as Long Beach's approval of a 15 percent tax on recreational marijuana businesses, won't take effect due to the defeat of Proposition 19. One local proposition - Rancho Cordova's vote to impose heavy taxes on personal marijuana cultivation - is inspiring threats of lawsuits from medical marijuana activists.

But many other local marijuana taxes will stand.

In Sacramento, more than 70 percent of voters approved Measure C to permit the City Council to levy taxes of up to four percent on medical marijuana dispensaries in the capital. Measure C's proposed 10 percent tax on recreational marijuana won't take effect due to Proposition 19's defeat.

In Rancho Cordova, where the City Council has disallowed medical marijuana dispensaries, 67 percent of voters approved Measure H to impose 12 to 15 percent taxes should any pot outlets open in the future.

Fifty-six percent of local voters approved Rancho Cordova's controversial Measure 0 - which would impose taxes of $600 to $900 a square foot on private marijuana cultivation.

Elsewhere in California, voters in Oakland - which last year became the first city in America to impose marijuana taxes - raised the city levy on local medical dispensaries from 1.8 percent to 5 percent.

Berkeley voters approved a measure to issue local permits for industrial marijuana cultivation and also approved a 2.5 percent tax on medical pot dispensaries. Stockton approved the same tax rate for medical pot. San Jose voters opted for a tax of up to 10 percent of pot businesses, medical or otherwise.

Voters in two cities, Santa Barbara and Morro Bay, rejected local ballot measures that would have banned medical marijuana shops.

Proposition 19, which would have legalized marijuana for recreational use, would have permitted local governments to impose taxes on retail pot sales - but didn't spell out what the taxes would be.

Dale Gieringer, California director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the "yes" votes on local showed that voters like the idea of taxing pot when shown the numbers.

"It doesn't surprise me," he said. "We know it's popular to tax cannabis."

November 3, 2010
Oakland pot entrepreneur vows new California marijuana vote

MC.POT.SECOND.JPGOakland marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee said today that his bankroll is depleted and the next California pot legalization measure may have to depend on other donors.

But in an interview, Lee said he is determined that marijuana will be on the California ballot again in 2012 despite the defeat of Proposition 19.

Lee, who founded Oakland's renowned pot trades school, Oaksterdam University, and heads a network including a medical marijuana dispensary, nursery and media company, donated $1.3 million to qualify Proposition 19 for the ballot and another $200,000 to the election campaign.

"We just need to do some research and see why people voted 'no,'" Lee said after the initiative lost by a 54 to 46 percent just weeks after polls showed California voters poised to legalize marijuana for recreational use. "We did get more votes than (gubernatorial candidate) Meg Whitman. And she spent more than $140 million. We need to look at the bright side."

Lee said Proposition 19 showed that Californians increasingly support legalizing marijuana but "just didn't like the details of the initiative."

Proposition 19 would have legalized possession of an once or more of marijuana and permitted small household cultivation for adults over 21. It would have allowed cities and counties to tax and regulate retail pot sales - but specified no taxes. Yet while Prop 19 went down to defeat, voters approved more than a dozen local California measures calling for marijuana taxes.

In a statement he put out on election night, Lee vowed that "we will be coming back, stronger than ever" with a redrafted pot legalization measure in 2012.

He notably credited the early momentum of the Proposition 19 campaign for convincing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign legislation that reduced simple marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to an infraction with a $100 fine. "It was a clear concession to the power of the legalization movement and a recognition of the obvious failure of our marijuana laws," Lee said in his statement.

This morning, he said Proposition 19 was "a great building point" for the next California marijuana legalization campaign. Lee said said the effort - which received a late $1 million contribution this year from billionaire fund manager and philanthropist George Soros - won't have to wait for donors the next time around.

As for Lee and his marijuana enterprises, he doesn't figure to be writing the same volume of checks.

"That was our savings for many years," he said. "We don't have the same nest egg to spend."

Pictured: Lee, with the product at Oaksterdam University, vows his movement will grow to vote another day. Manny Crisostomo/mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

November 2, 2010
Local pot tax measures soaring as Proposition 19 tumbles

Though the Proposition 19 California marijuana legalization and taxation initiative is going down to defeat, voters in two local cities are overwhelmingly approving local measures to tax marijuana sales.

In Sacramento, more than 70 percent of voters are approving Measure C with more than one half of voter precincts reporting. Measure C will allow the city to impose taxes of up to 5 percent on existing medical marijuana dispensaries. It also would allow a 10 percent tax on any recreational pot businesses that could have opened under Proposition 19.

In Rancho Cordova, where the City Council has expressly forbidden marijuana shops, medical or otherwise, 70 percent of voters are backing Measure H. It would impose taxes of up to 15 percent on any pot outlets that open in the city in the future.

Meanwhile, Rancho Cordova's Measure O - which would impose steep taxes on personal marijuana cultivation - is winning with more than 60 percent of the vote.

November 2, 2010
California voters reject Proposition 19 marijuana initiative

California, which 14 years ago became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use, has decided it isn't going to sanction pot use for recreation.

Election Results

By a wide margin, voters defeated Proposition 19. With one-fifth of the vote counted, it is losing by 57 to 43 percent.

A few minutes ago, Proposition 19 proponent Richard Lee, an Oakland marijuana entrepreneur who spent $1.5 million to back the measure, conceded defeat. But he said he will push for another marijuana vote in 2012.

"The fact that millions of Californians voted to legalize marijuana is a tremendous victory," Lee said. "...Prop. 19 has changed the terms of the debate. And that was a major strategic goal...Because of this campaign, millions now understand it's time to develop an exit strategy for the failed war on marijuana."

The pot initiative - which also would have made California the first state to legalize marijuana beyond medical use - drew international attention.

It was cheered on by marijuana advocates, drug war critics and even the California branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It was condemned by the California Chamber of Commerce and most state police organizations.

Most recently, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder vowed to "vigorously enforce" federal drug laws in California if voters passed the initiative.

Tonight, Roger Salazar, a spokesman for Public Safety First, the No on 19 campaign committee, said Holder's remarks turned the tide against the initiative.

"When the U.S. attorney general talked about the conflict with federal law, that gave people pause," Salazar said. "And I think people really started to take a look at whether it did what it promised. It wouldn't stop drug cartels. And it wouldn't help law enforcement do their job better.

"The proponents of Proposition 19 tried to sell voters on a concept, thinking they would ignore the details."

Proposition 19 would have allowed Californians over 21 to legally possess an ounce of pot and to cultivate small amounts of marijuana at home. It also would have enabled cities and counties to tax and regulate retail pot sales.

November 1, 2010
California initiative gives new boost to 'Hemp for Victory'

America's $350 million hemp products industry is watching the outcome of California's Proposition 19 marijuana initiative with both excitement and trepidation - wondering whether legal cannabis in the Golden State will help or hinder political efforts to legalize hemp cultivation in America.

Saturday's story in The Sacramento Bee
offered some perspective on the challenges and ambitions for the industry as it markets products from soap to rope - all made with imported hemp - and tries to reinforce a distinct identity from its psychoactive cannabis cousin, mariijuana.

The last time hemp cultivation flourished in the United States was during World War II when the U.S. Department of Agriculture produced "Hemp for Victory," a news reel calling on "patriotic farmers" to grow hemp to manufacture clothing and products for the war effort. The old film has been widely circulated on the web in recent years.

View it below: