How many of Humboldt County's 134,623 residents are involved in the weed industry? Twenty percent? Thirty? Half? Last week, a pot cop working in the county to our south suggested that the figure is even higher than that. Rich Russell, commander of Mendocino County's major crimes task force, raised eyebrows and a few hackles by estimating that fully 50 percent of Mendo's residents are growing, distributing and/or processing pot for sale, according to a story in Saturday's Press Democrat. "He expects that Humboldt County's [rate] would be higher," it said.
There's no official count, of course; people tend not to claim "marijuana growing" or "seasonal trimming" on IRS forms. And we'll refrain from joining this guessing game because, frankly, we haven't the cloudiest idea. But what we found interesting about reactions to Russell's estimate was not that people disagreed with him (the subtext seemed to be that either his figure was too high or maybe he was). No, what we found revealing was the defensiveness and scorn that greeted the claim — as if he'd suggested that half the populace were whores.
Mendocino County Supervisor John McCowen called the claim "a disservice to the many thousands of law-abiding people in the county." Ukiah defense attorney Bob Boyd — a man who earns much of his living defending marijuana growers — told the PD, "It seems [Russell] has a very jaded view of the community he serves."
Huh? How does that follow? Granted, the crime and environmental damage associated with large-scale greed grows are unquestionably problems. And, sure, some of the flat-billed, dready thugs who have invaded the region are rude little turds. But reactions such as McCowen's and Boyd's imply that there's something categorically shameful about the marijuana industry — a curious attitude in a region where even skeptics acknowledge that weed is the No. 1 cash crop.
McCowen takes umbrage on behalf of law-abiders, but can those who defer to the feds still claim the moral high ground when polls show that more than half the country wants to abolish the laws in question? During the crime-ridden days of Prohibition, moonshiners and bootleggers were branded as scourges and reprobates. Today, local distillers and craft brewers are darlings of the community — and rightly so, we'd submit with a frothy grin.
As we head toward full legalization — and the ensuing economic upheaval here — it may be smart to start dismantling the pot stigma. After all, there's a distinction to be made between vice industries and the crime that follows when they're outlawed.
• That stigma's still enshrined in NFL rulebooks. Seattle Seahawks cornerback Walter Thurmond learned Sunday that he's been suspended for four games, allegedly for smoking marijuana, which is now fully legal in Washington.
• It's also legal in Colorado, but feds reminded some Denver and Boulder residents about the federal supremacy clause last week when they raided more than a dozen marijuana facilities and two homes, according to the Denver Post. The busts came just weeks before legal recreational sales are set to begin. As with raids here in California, the feds didn't explain why they were targeting the operations except to claim they were in violation of U.S. Justice Department guidelines.
• Finally, the San Francisco Chronicle's pot blog, "Smell the Truth," came out with a list of holiday tips for traveling with weed. Among the tips: Pot laws don't travel with you, which means the Nevada highway patrolman won't be impressed with your 215 card. And if you're going to Arizona for some reason, be extra careful. There you can be convicted of a DUI if any cannabis metabolites are found in your body, and those tiny molecules can hang around for weeks.