Should County Sell Pot?

posted 4-11-10
SHOULD Sierra County Sell Pot?

Our county, like a lot of rural counties, is slowly starving to death. Business is going under or just clinging to the edge. Houses are vacant in our little towns; the number of children in our schools is ebbing. People who a few years ago worked in the woods are dying of the diseases of inactivity. Alcoholism is taking our contractors and laborers. Our families are suffering. The body of our county is still warm, there are small projects here and there keeping some construction workers a little busy; the cogen plant is running, generating some revenue. Still, we, individually and as a community, need money.

Against this backdrop of want picture the county burying half a million dollars in the Loyalton landfill. Picture cops loading bins with greenbacks, and dozers covering them with potato peels and molding diapers.

We don’t have to imagine it, we saw it, there were photos. Fifty yard dumpsters of cannabis going to the landfill, with grinning cops celebrating the waste.

The High Cost of Collective Ignorance

The U.S. has endured nearly 30 years of anti-drug propaganda. Whole classes of drugs were thrown in together in that narrative, except for the two most deadly, tobacco and alcohol. We are still compelled to say "drugs and alcohol" as though alcohol weren’t a drug. Very little real information came out of the drug war, and very little benefit. Cultures engage in scapegoating, it helps maintain social cohesion. It’s no accident that the "war on drugs" coincided with cultural upheaval; the "war" provided a scapegoat class and punished the children of the 60s for their rejection of the values of the "Greatest Generation".

A cultural war is a bad thing by its very nature, turning citizen against citizen in a prolonged battle of ideas. Cannabis, the plant, and ganja, the drug from some species of the plant, were pulled into that cultural war even as they had been in the cultural war against Blacks and Mexicans before World War II.

The Wheel Turns

That cultural battle between the generation for World War Two and the generation of Vietnam is rapidly becoming moot. The "Greatest Generation" who won their war are finally passing on, and the "Tune in, turn on, drop out" generation, who failed in their little war, are so established they’ve lost most of their currency to the generations that followed. Marginalized in short, most young Californians care nothing for the "Greatest" generation, and consider their Baby Boomer parents and grandparents to be largely oblivious to the realities of 21st Century America. Barack Obama narrowly misses the "boomer" demographic: the wheel turns.

In the Outside World

Elsewhere in California there is a thriving industry in medical marijuana. People are getting rich and local governments are moving in to regulate and tax the industry. Medical cannabis had brought many changes to the world of pot, and just in time for the boomers to get the aches, pains and reality check that old age brings to everyone, even "My Generation" ("I hope I die before I get old," but the boomers stubbornly cling to life!).

In the outside world the industry has been undergoing changes, even as the state orients itself to formalize statewide controls over the industry’s growth. When weed was simply illegal, it was easy to deal with. In its new semi-legal state it’s been a bit more difficult for the system to process. The rules are in flux.

Who Owns the Weed?

When the county busts someone for drugs it’s often a good plan to seize something. Drug seizure money has turned some law enforcement into essentially mercenaries, conducting their quasi-military anti-drug activities in exchange for part of the booty. It’s been very bad for America, but it’s set a precedent: taking stuff from dopers is OK.

Usually, though, it’s boats and cars, jewelry, and especially cash that is "seized" meaning the government now owns it. Other things, the drugs themselves, are "confiscated" and used as evidence and then generally destroyed (or disappear).

So, who owns the marijuana that is found growing illegally in the county? That’s a thorny legal issue. It is possible that processed marijuana can be seized, but standing pot might only be available for destruction. It’s also possible it falls into a gray area, meaning the county can do what it likes, and see what happens.

Can the County Sell Weed?

If the county confiscated a hundred thousand dollars in oxycodone, it couldn’t sell it because it would lack the proper paper trail to insure the ingredients and purity of the product. It would have to be destroyed.

But, is that true of medical marijuana?

Currently, medical marijuana is most often available in the herb form. It is a relatively simply matter to ensure the ingredients and even the potency of the herb form. There typically is no paper trail as the pharmaceutical industry typically keeps on its products.

Further, the County might have legal status to own the cannabis, but not to sell it through distribution. It would need a broker who does have legal status to sell the product. The broker could take possession of the weed on spec and return a significant portion to the county.

Harsh Realities of Harsh Weed

One of the benefits of the legalization of medical marijuana has been a dramatic increase in the demand for clean, quality product. Very few people smoke "Mexican ditch weed" anymore, meaning weed of low quality, often with seeds and always with mold, which has been "jacked" into blocks for transportation.

The gold standard for medical weed is a plant with a known pedigree, grown indoors, which is organic and rapidly processed to avoid mold. Many of the diseases for which people use cannabis leave one easy pray for mold or yeast infection. Gold standard cannabis goes for as much as $5,000 a pound.

More common cannabis is grown indoors, is not organic, but is mold free. A common price for such a product is $3000-3500 a pound. A hand-tended marijuana plant will yield about four pounds of processed ganja. Most outdoor plants yield about two pounds of processed market cannabis.

If Sierra County seized standing marijuana, it would have only a few choices.

  1. It might be able to sell the standing product to a broker. It could reasonably, because it is an economically depressed area, require the broker to hire local people with doctor’s recommendations for medical cannabis to cut, trim, dry and package the product. Perhaps not surprisingly, such work is often considered "woman’s work" because women have smaller, more nimble hands and can do a better job of trimming, and because the work pays surprisingly poorly. Often, trimmers get ten bucks an hour cash and a share of the "B grade" weed and small bud leaves. Trimmers are almost always "contractors" meaning they have to bring their own scissors and small bottle of olive oil, and if they get hurt they’re fired.
  2. It might be able to contract to have the work done.
  3. It might be able to sell the standing product to a local non-profit formed for the purpose.
  4. Sadly, one thing it cannot do is form a cooperative and hire all the county residents with "215" recommendations and process and market the weed themselves.

It is possible the county could sell processed, packaged weed to a bona fide distributor. Again, it might depend on how the asset was described how it would be valued and treated. If the county could suddenly seize half a million dollars of Johnnie Walker Gold Label would anyone seriously suggest driving over it with dozers and covering it with moldy diapers? It could happen, sure, any madness is possible when the law is involved, but who would seriously suggest it?

Moral Questions

What moral questions? Millions of free Americans make the choice, with their doctors, to use cannabis for medicine. It is legal. Survivors of the cultural war might still want to associate ganja with the devil, but for the rest of us, morals deal with how you treat your neighbor, not what kind of plants you ingest. If you’re worried about influencing kids, don’t; adults are miserable at influencing kids. Besides, studies show most teens already know where to go for drugs: other kids.

Besides, it’s a little late to get self-righteous. The county currently survives on government money in the form of wages, grants, economic stimulus, social services, health services, road money, cash for cops, and all the other forms of government welfare to the rural areas and counties. Further, if Anheuser Busch wanted to grow hops and grain in the valley and put a brewery where the mill is now, most people in the county would piddle themselves at the news, and would line up at one end of the brewery for a job, and the other end for a case. Let’s try to keep our moral indignation within reasonable constraints.

Federal Law

The federal government is morally as well as financially bankrupt. We’ll pay our taxes, try to stay out of their woods, and they can leave us alone as we continue to survive. On the other hand, if the feds want to pick on little Sierra County for trying to cash in on medical cannabis, we’ll probably profit from the world wide attention.

A Little Rational Investigation

If the voters were in favor of seizing this valuable resource from shameful criminals and making it available to sick people, how could this be done?

The easiest way would be for the Board of Supervisors to appoint a committee to look into the matter. The committee could meet with the D. A. and County Council to see what the law would currently allow by way of seizure and disposal of a marketable product. Perhaps a new way of looking at the product is called for. This is accomplished by changing what you call it, and the sections of law under which it is described. Eventually, a legal procedure might be identified.

In most seizures, the state, usually represented by the Sheriff of Nottingham, sells the seized goods and then the take is split with local LE. It is certainly possible that if the county is able to sell the cannabis, the state would be in for a cut. There are already laws dealing with how booty is divided among law enforcement agencies.

Next, the committee could meet with industry representatives to discuss the best way of distributing the product, and what the County’s cut would be.

Finally, the Board would pass whatever ordinances are necessary to codify the process. It is possible crafty county lawyer staff could fashion language to accomplish the task, leaving the state to beg us for their share of the loot.

Still Pioneers

It was gold as brought the first pioneers here, and then food, timber, and labor for the mines. Sierra County might still be a pioneering force. How much "wiggle" can our county legal staff find in the law? It’s a tall order to ask County Council Jim Curtis to figure a way to steal from both the state and drug dealers (sounds like the plot of an action movie, doesn’t it?) but let’s give him a chance. He’s more than commonly clever with the words of law. An old bromide says "a poor attorney says ‘can’t do;’ a good attorney says how to." What, seriously, does the county have to lose? Simply putting it on the agenda will draw national attention to the plight of small counties in California. We don’t have to go to the point where county officials actually go to jail, but it would be a shot in the arm to the whole county to get a public warning. What will the state do, steal our money: too late! Drive our county’s poor into ill health by cutting funding for health care? Too late! The greatest likelihood is that there won’t be zillions of dollars of pot seized this year, so we won’t get to try it.

Anyway, if this county is able to seize and resell pot as medical cannabis, other counties will very quickly follow suit. That will galvanize counties to streamline and unify their approach to medical cannabis as opposed to illegal weed, driving the need for state wide codification. It will also put counties in direct competition with pot producers; now, that’s capitalism at work!


Quick! Somebody wade through this and tell us how to sell captured cannabis; State Codes. 


Photo: Margo Bouer by Todd Bigelow, from NPR HERE


My Generation
The Who

People try to put us d-down (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Just because we g-g-get around (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Yeah, I hope I die before I get old (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

This is my generation
This is my generation, baby



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