As the Journal was going to press Tuesday night, the Eureka City Council was poised to reconsider the city's medical marijuana ordinance, a set of regulations that for the past two years has been locked up and ignored like a trapped skunk — dangerous, irksome and waiting to be dealt with. The ordinance was adopted in August 2010 and modified in May 2011, but it has been on moratorium since November 2011. Why? Because city staff, in an abundance of caution, sought input on the ordinance from the U.S. Attorney's Office, which is kinda like asking the school principal for permission to burn a J in the bathroom.
In response, Northern District U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, a notoriously zealous drug warrior, threatened legal action against the city, its employees and officials should they dare to enact a "licensing scheme" in violation of federal law. And so, the city has kept the thing locked up for two years. It just so happens that those two years have seen a sea change in Americans' attitudes toward marijuana. A recent Gallup poll found that support for legalization surged 10 percent in the last year alone, with a strong majority — 58 percent — now in favor. Two states, Washington and Colorado, have already gone there.
So has the skunk's spray gland been effectively removed? Does Haag — or any other U.S. Attorney — have the political capital to arrest local officials now that the country has called the government's drug war bluff? A more pertinent question: Are local officials willing to risk it? By the time you read this the Eureka City Council will have chosen either to greenlight the ordinance, which would allow up to four dispensaries while regulating personal residential grows in city limits, or to shoot all or part of it down for any number of reasons. (The current council is considerably more conservative than the one that drafted the ordinance.) [Update: The council voted to allow the moratorium to expire.]
The county's Board of Supervisors, meanwhile, has been slowly, tentatively tinkering with its draft ordinance for outdoor cultivation. On Oct. 22, a subcommittee consisting of 5th District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg and 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace proposed allowing limited cultivation (no more than five mature plants, and they can't be the stinky strains) on parcels between half an acre and five acres in size. The supes will pick up the issue again at a later meeting.
As full legalization comes rumbling inexorably down the pipe, local governments must continue to squirm in the legislative gray zone.
A "Rocky Mountain High" joke would be way too obvious here, but it's tempting given a story in Saturday's Denver Post that says Colorado could see more than 100 recreational weed stores open on Jan. 1. The state's new Marijuana Enforcement Division accepted 136 applications last month alone from people looking to open fun-pot shops, and another 28 applications for businesses selling pot-infused products, the story says. Voters in the Centennial State headed to the polls Tuesday to weigh in on a 15-percent excise tax on pot producers and a 10-percent sales tax on consumers, which together could generate $67 million annually for the state.
Humboldt's pot scene continues to attract curious scribes from august media outlets. In the last few weeks The Times of London published a pair of stories, the first waxing grandiose about the last days of "bandit farmers" in the "Uttermost West." The second was mostly hidden behind a paywall, but its provocative title asked, "Will hippy ideals of cannabis soon be replaced by underworld violence?" Gosh, let's hope not. The best recent story about us appeared in a special pot-themed issue of The Nation, in which reporter Seth Zuckerman examined the environmental impact of marijuana cultivation through the lens of our uttermost western outlaw county. •
Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested that The Nation reporter Seth Zuckerman was an outsider to Humboldt. Not true, it turns out. The Journal regrets the error.