The fight for Arcata's 4/20 festival is heating up. For years, beleaguered travelers, excitable college kids and local enthusiasts would ascend the ferny trails to celebrate weed in all its glory at the city-owned public park nestled between the redwoods.
But for the last couple of years, police officers, under city direction, have stifled the event, blocking roads and paths to the park with trimmed tree limbs, and dosing the grassy lawns with malodorous fertilizer, according to reports.
After last year's totally bunk non-festival, local civil rights activists and attorneys got peeved. In October, attorney Peter Martin, representing marijuana activist Greg Allen, filed a federal complaint against Arcata, Police Chief Tom Chapman and then-City Manager Randy Mendosa for violating the First Amendment.
In the complaint, Martin wrote that Mendosa and Chapman had been concocting a plan since late 2009 to close the park to 4/20 revelers, singled out would-be-partiers and turned potential visitors away, all flying in the face of the right to peacefully assemble on public property.
This week, HumRights Director Jeffrey Schwartz (who's married to Journal columnist Marcy Burstiner) announced that his organization has been in negotiations with the city to reserve the park space for April 20, 2015.
"Shortly after submitting the request [in June, 2014], an Arcata Recreation Division staff member informed HumRights that the Arcata Police Department had directed city employees not to allow reservations at the park on that day," Schwartz wrote in a press release.
In September, Schwartz contacted an APD lieutenant, who told him that the department has a standing reservation on April 20 every year. "The lieutenant stated that the department uses the picnic area, stage and building as a staging area and command post for public safety operations on that date. The lieutenant said the department would be happy to discuss sharing the picnic area with HumRights."
But those negotiations dried up, apparently, when Martin filed suit in October. HumRights urged the city to reverse the permit denial at a council meeting last month.
"We want to stress that this is a not a marijuana issue," Outreach Director Kaci Poor [who has freelanced for the Journal in the past] said at the meeting. "This is an issue of prior restraint. This is an issue of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech."
In the year's most bizarre pot-related true crime story, a Brooklyn cherry magnate took his own life with an ankle-holstered pistol in a locked bathroom as authorities discovered a massive marijuana farm underneath his factory.
Years prior, the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office received a tip that Arthur Mondella, who ran a successful maraschino-cherry factory in the Red Hook District of the borough, was also growing marijuana on the site. But investigations didn't turn up enough evidence to secure a search warrant — Mondella didn't have apparent ties to organized crime, the water and electricity usage weren't beyond expected for the factory's operations, thermal cameras revealed no telling glow, and the building's plan showed it had no basement, where the tipster had placed the grow.
Beekeepers in the region, meanwhile, began to notice a red hue to the honey they collected. Through some community investigation, a beekeeper's association pinpointed Mondella's factory, and, by an account in the Daily Beast, Mondella and the association began to seek a solution.
But the red bees gave the district attorney's office an opportunity to peek into the factory after six years of hand-wringing. Investigators coaxed city environmental agents to search for illegal dumping, all the while keeping an eye out for signs of marijuana. Nothing. But on a return visit last week, DA investigators tagged along and found a secret door behind steel shelves that led downstairs to a 2,500-square-foot farm (the biggest ever discovered in New York City, according to reports), 100 pounds of pot, 60 varieties of seeds and $125,000 in cash.
Mondella, 57, shot himself as investigators searched the factory. His suicide has baffled many, including investigators, according to reports. Mondella was apparently well-liked, and cared for his employees and his family; his maraschino business was successful; and, in a nation of rapidly reforming marijuana laws, it seems at least remotely possible that Mondella could have escaped the crazy sentencings of yesteryear.