by Ryan Burns
Federal agents with the Drug Enforcement Agency today raided Mendocino County medical marijuana collective Northstone Organics, whose executive director, Matt Cohen, is featured in this week's Journal cover story by Zach St. George. Cohen's collective was operating under a permit issued by the Mendocino County Sheriff's Dept., and by all indications it was following the county's pioneering medical marijuana ordinance.
Profiled in many news stories including PBS' "Frontline" and the above clip from "California Watch," Northstone Organics has purchased county-issued zip-ties and placed them around the stalks of marijuana plants to identify them as licensed gardens. Over the past week, however, California's four U.S. Attorneys have unleashed their federal might, sending letters to dispensary owners and landlords threatening asset seizure and criminal prosecution. And in the latest twist, they've threatened to go after media outlets that run marijuana ads.
"This is a systematic federal terror campaign," said Charlie Custer, co-founder of both the Tea House Collective, a medical marijuana cooperative, and the Humboldt Medical Marijuana Advisory Panel, a policy group that has worked closely with the Humboldt County Planning Commission to help develop our own countywide ordinance. The Planning Commission has been looking very closely at Mendocino's zip-tie licensing system as a potential model for replication. Today's federal actions will likely change -- or at the very least delay -- that approach, Custer predicted.
He believes the actions of the U.S. Attorneys are politically motivated. "They absolutely do not want to see any states voting for legalization in 2012. That's what this is all about." Well, that and their own political aspirations. "We've become an ever-more fearful society, and our U.S. attorneys are ever-more invested in managing public fears as a way of advancing their own careers," Custer said bitterly.
Custer said it's impossible to know whether federal agencies will target dispensaries and collectives here in Humboldt County. On the one hand, he pointed out, the smaller scale of our operations combined with our region's geographic isolation make local operations less efficient targets. Still, he can't be certain, which he believes is precisely the idea.
"The purpose of this is to sow fear, and it's effective," Custer said. "I've said to my wife as we clutch each other in bed, wondering what's gonna happen, 'Everything we do in our collective is in accordance with what the feds say is desirable. We're small-scale, decentralized, nonprofit and environmentally benign. We're as groovy as can possibly be.'"
Nevertheless, he's not resting easy. "It's all just so screwball and unpredictable."