Letters + Opinion » The Week in Weed

Ooh, That Smell



The Pinoleville Pomo Nation, based out of Mendocino County, was raided by the sheriff's office last week and hundreds of marijuana plants were seized.

The Journal reported in January that the tribe said it would build a 110,000-square-foot marijuana growing facility on its 99-acre Rancheria near Ukiah, anticipating legalization. This came after the U.S. Department of Justice announced late last year it would not prosecute tribes for growing or selling marijuana on tribal lands.

But on Sept. 23, according to a Sacramento Bee report, deputies from the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office searched two Pinoleville properties, discovering more than 300 marijuana plants, 100 pounds of processed bud and a "honey-oil chemical extraction lab."

According to the Bee, the sheriff had been investigating the tribe for months ­— not surprising, given the public announcement of its intentions to be among the first tribes in the nation to grow pot. But one tribal official said the operation was "perfectly legal" and chalked up the raid to an "overzealous" sheriff. No one was arrested.

Tom Allman isn't exactly the nation's most overzealous sheriff — he told a panel earlier this month that his focus was megagrows. (He laid out a list of priorities for his officers to follow when identifying marijuana gardens to raid, including commercial profiteering, trespass grows, illegal water diversion and environmental degradation.) While the Pinoleville grow seems to exceed the county's 25-plant limit, it's hard to imagine there aren't much larger operations dotting the Mendocino landscape.

When the Pinoleville tribe announced it would farm marijuana earlier this year, it secured investors, including Kansas-based FoxBarry Farms. The Bee reports the tribe has since "suspended its activities" with Foxbarry, and that the company's website has disappeared.

Marijuana farmers with an aptitude for hybridization have long bestowed their strains with less-than-appealing appellations (cat piss, sour diesel), which is fine, but the aromatic appreciation of pot is highly subjective. People who live near farmers have complained to public agencies about being choked out of their neighborhoods during harvest season. Me, I kinda like the sharp, earthy smell (though I don't have to live surrounded by it). The smoke is sweeter and less acrid than tobacco or wood stove smoke. But I also like the smell of skunk cabbage in a soggy redwood forest, so go figure.

Lest you think discussion of marijuana's unique odor was relegated to barrooms or city council meetings, the aroma became the subject of a recent Oregon appellate court ruling.

As reported by the LA Times' Matt Pearce, it was a contested search warrant that led to the ruling. In 2012, police, responding to complaints from neighbors about the wafting smell of pot smoke, got a warrant to search the apartment of Jared William Lang.

Oregon state law prohibits "a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which the person is not licensed or privileged to do," Pearce wrote, and police were using the pot smell as justification for their warrant.

Instead of citing Lang for producing a weed smell, though, officers found evidence that Lang had been painting graffiti around town, and arrested him on those charges. Lang fought a subsequent conviction, saying the search warrant never should have been issued on the grounds that the smell was "a physically offensive condition."

As it turns out, an Oregon judge agreed, writing in her opinion, "We are not prepared to declare, as the state would have us, that the odor of marijuana smoke is equivalent to the odor of garbage."

The judge acknowledged that there are circumstances under which the smell could constitute offense, but wrote, "We could perhaps say with confidence that a fleeting whiff of marijuana smoke would not offend a reasonable person."

Therefore, she argued, the weed smell was a "neutral factor" in the case — and the warrant should not have been issued. The case was overturned. And with pot newly legal in our neighbor to the north, it's a smell that a lot more people may have to get used to.

Add a comment