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Everyone in a position to know says this is another banner year for the marijuana cultivation business, Mendocino County franchise. Mendocino county is about three hours drive north of San Francisco.
Sheriff Allman says simply, “It’s everywhere.”
And it’s drawing people from everywhere.
Last year law enforcement grabbed young people from Italy, Bulgaria, Israel, China, Spain, Russia, and, of course, Mexico who had come to Mendocino County to grow weed. The foreign nationals brought an international flavor to an industry begun forty-five years ago out of old fashioned American ingenuity, back-to-the-land hippie botanists who went on to produce a product of such quality it has been in great demand ever since.
After last season’s polyglot busts, Sheriff Allman joked about “setting up a United Nations office” at his Ukiah headquarters.
With ever more people getting into the marijuana business, the pot market has become glutted. Prices are down. But two thousand dollars a pound still looks good to people fighting the economic downturn with outdoor agriculture. The “Green Rush” is on, and it’s been building for a decade now.
Tens of thousands of plants have already been seized this year and outdoor pot season has just started.
Indoor pot season, like pig hunting, is year-round. A deputy joked recently that “a lot of people have their kids sleeping on their living room floors because their bedrooms have been converted to indoor grows.”
All this dope, and the national perception that Mendocino County is Marijuana Country, has brought The Drug Enforcement Agency to Mendocino County in force. They’re everywhere, under cover and above the covers, searching and sniffing about, looking to bust growers and drug dealers. And even if the feds aren’t everywhere they like the dopers to think they are.
Mendocino County seems to have supplanted Humboldt county, just to its north, as the fed’s primary target.
Black is the color of the DEA. They wear black jump suits, drive black SUVs, and fly black helicopters. They had a whole squadron of little black choppers at the Ukiah airport a few weeks ago to train law enforcement personnel from all over in spotting and eradicating marijuana crops. The DEA also uses military choppers, and they had a big Blackhawk apparently working as flagship with the smaller choppers brought in for the training exercises.
Some of the little black choppers are still around, as is a big CH 46, the one with the twin rotors and a tailgate that you can drive a Hummer into. It seems to be the mothership. The CH 46 left the Ukiah airport early Friday morning, lumbering into the air like a mammoth cruise ship pulling out into San Francisco Bay from Pier 46. The pilot inflected the rotor blades, eased into the throttle and the big warship floated up and south over the runway, gathering speed and altitude, the crew chief standing at military parade rest on the open deck of its vast tailgate. It banked around over Highway 101 and headed north for the big grows, the innumerable marijuana plantations on federal land east of Willits, north of Covelo, the true wilds of the Emerald Triangle.
The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Forest Service are hiring combat veterans just back from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan for less lethal duty in the Mendocino marijuana wars. There’s not a lot of jobs out there for young people just back from Mesopotamia, but these guys tend to have plenty of experience in searching out the poppy crops of Afghanistan.
Chasing pot farmers in outback Mendocino County is light duty after the Taliban.
Of course, all grows are illegal to the DEA, regardless of state or local statutes. The DEA’s web site says, “Marijuana smoked is not medicine and it is not safe. DEA targets criminals engaged in cultivation and trafficking of marijuana, including the 12 states that have decriminalized marijuana use.”
The DEA trains its agents at Quantico, a Marine Corps base in Virginia. The CIA and FBI also train their officers there. The physical training for DEA agents is done under the supervision of Marine drill instructors, and the web page boasts that it’s pretty intense.
Last week I saw a guy on the local MTA bus wearing a Marine Corps utility cover — which is what the Marines call a hat. He was dressed like a vagabond and smelled faintly of stale beer. But the women on the bus seemed quite taken with his clear eyes and fit physique. Vags don’t work out much except for their elbows, and this suspiciously fit one was overheard saying he’d just come from Virginia. Maybe he was riding the MTA on recon, scoping out the area, maybe even making some useful contacts.
Oh, yeah, and paranoia is another industry byproduct. Especially at this time of year.
I call these guys RAMBOs, from an urban myth that the Regular Army and the Marines had a program where they used biological engineering and steroids to develop optimal troopers. Supposedly, they put computer chips in the brains of qualified vets, gave them massive doses of steroids and made remote-control supermen out of them with implants that would shoot meth into their bloodstream on demand.
The tinfoil hat people thought it was true.
Besides the DEA’s Rambos, there’s the National Guard Counter Drug Task Force, the Mendocino County Major Crimes Task Force, and the California Marijuana Eradication Task Force.
Their primary task?
Eradication of devil weed and the devils who grow it.
Especially in the Mendocino National Forest.
Growers, organized as armed syndicates — and they’re not all Mexicans as the local rightwing claims — have had it all their way in America’s least visited national forest for a decade now, and here comes the counter-attack.
Pot growers and their legions of strictly legal support staffs with their truck loads of irrigation hose, fertilizers, timers, netting, and everything else a remote pot enterprise might need, depart daily from Mendocino County’s thriving garden supply businesses, head off to the hills. Many of these supply trucks drive east to Covelo and points north to irrigate marijuana out of the Middle Fork Eel River, the only reliable source of water in the summer time in the Mendocino National Forest.
Supervisor John Pinches declared last week, “We’ve lost our national forest. Forget all these other issues, let’s take back our forest. It’s out of hand. There’s got to be a plan to take back the forest.”
To which a reader responded, “Hey, Pinches. In case you haven’t noticed, the criminal timber syndicates, together with their government co-conspirators, destroyed ‘our national forest’ a long time ago.”
There are dark rumors about Tom Contreras, the Forest Service man in charge of the National Forest.
“Contreras has never done anything about the big grows out there because the Mexican gangs have gotten to him. He’s Hispanic, a brother.” Or, “The cartels know where Contreras lives. They’ve threatened him and his family.”
That kind of thing. Rumor. Guilt by ethnicity.
A man who regularly hikes the Mendocino National Forest recommends road blocks in the summer months.
“Roadblocks at three key places would seriously disrupt grower supply lines,” he says. “All of them lead to the water of the Middle Fork Eel where the water is out there in the summer.”
This guy is also suspicious of the Forest Service.
“They aren’t doing much of anything to keep the growers out, that’s for sure. And these growers are like sherpas; young guys straight from Mexico. They can hike for miles with big loads. Most of the cops can hike maybe one mile with light loads — their lunches. The supervisors are having their August meeting in Covelo. So what? People will vent and that’ll be the end of it. Do you know anyone who pays any attention to the supervisors?”
It takes fit young men to chase other fit young men, and if you’re taking bets I’ll bet on the fit federal young men in black jump suits and their little black choppers.
BRUCE McEWEN is court reporter for the great Boonville-based Anderson Valley Advertiser, where this report appears.