I’m still feeling a little numb. This afternoon a Mendocino County sheriff’s deputy drove his huge white SUV through our gates — a sight I thought I would always dread. Today, however, we actually expected him. Although, I do admit, he took us by surprise. The appointment for the inspection of our crop and facilities had been set for 5:30 p.m., so we thought we still had three hours before the arrival. But it didn’t take more than a second to realize that big clean and official-looking vehicle wasn’t anyone else.
Swami went to do the greeting while I set aside the lunches we were just about to eat. A crew of budtenders from Harborside Health Center in Oakland had just left a few minutes before and our own team was starting to relax before the much-anticipated arrival of “The Man.” There was still a handful of last minute things to tidy up, but all in all, we were ready to go. Swami and I had been preparing the property and paperwork for weeks according to the checklist sent out to all applicants.
I admit I awoke with butterflies in my stomach this morning. It was like waking up on the morning of a major test, when you know you have nothing more to stuff into your brain but are still worried there might be some little thing you overlooked. Only in this case, you have been trained all your life to be terrified of the teacher! I have nothing against the police as long as they are doing their duty and protecting the public. But too many years of hearing horror stories in these hills of cops raiding people’s properties, cutting their crops, stealing their money and taking their children off to Child Protective Services have affected my judgment. I definitely needed to readjust my way of thinking to keep up with this new age of cannabis.
I remember the days of crouching under manzanita bushes while helicopters circled overhead, hoping to be invisible along with the cannabis plants. I recall being fearful of every California Highway Patrol vehicle that drove past, even if there wasn’t a reason to be, because perhaps there was a roach somewhere on the floor of the car. Memories of squads of cop cars clustered at the local gas station in Laytonville following a raid, or small planes flying back to the station with dangling netting full of chopped plants from some unlucky person’s garden are hard to forget. We are so blessed that this was the very first visit by anyone from the sheriff’s department to our ranch and it started with a handshake. We truly exist in a new paradigm.
As soon as I extended my hand to Deputy Kip’s, I could tell he was going to be a nice guy. When asked, he told the story of how he’d been a cop for 27 years in neighboring Lake County, where he’d “chopped down a lot of marijuana.” He had since retired and been recently contracted by the Mendocino Sheriff’s Office to be one of the inspectors for their 9.31 program, which has been reinstated in our county this season. The program allows the 342 farmers (those of us who managed to sign up before the surprise deadline a few weeks ago), to grow up to 99 plants per legal parcel, as long as they meet a long list of criteria and have a series of inspections. Plus, we have to pay money to the sheriff’s office, lots of money. To grow 99 plants the cost is $1,500 for the permit and then $50 per zip tie to place around each individual plant, bringing it to a total of $6,450. They are squeezing us as dry as they can.
Deputy Kip said he is enjoying his new assignment. He’d been doing a desk job the past months and the size of his girth attested to it. Clearly, getting out into the Mendocino mountain air has put a smile on his face and I think he is even getting a kick out of working the other side of the fence, so to speak. As he said, he is “counting instead of cutting” plants these days. He carried a clipboard with a lengthy checklist, dressed in California golden hillside colored fatigues looking like your uncle with a badge, except he did have a holstered gun.
It took about 40 minutes to count the girls in the garden and tour the drying and curing areas, plus check everything was properly locked. He confirmed that we do not use any pesticides nor do we have a diesel generator. Swami took him on a walk through the Enchanted Forest to the spring so he could see the water source and then we went over a little paperwork to make sure all was in order. Deputy Kip was just about to pass over the permit to sign when he hesitated. “This says you have to be 1,000 feet from a church. Are you a church?” he asked with a quizzical look at Swami. We both chuckled. “The church of old hippies, I guess,” I offered. He seemed to understand that.
So I signed the paperwork. I put my name on a legal piece of paper that will reside in the sheriff’s office, saying that I am growing up to 99 plants on our property. That is both a scary and a beautiful thing. It has taken years of hard dedicated work by many people to get us to this point — and now we have to hope they mean it. We may not be an official church, but you can believe we will be praying that’s the case.
Would you be comfortable taking law enforcement on a tour of your grow? Let us know.