Wake Up And Smell The Pot

Feb 2, 2012

Robert Whitt knew some­thing was not right when his ten­ant gave notice that he was mov­ing out but didn’t want Whitt to inspect the house – at least not right away. The ten­ant had lived in Whitt’s 1,600-square-foot home in south­west Santa Rosa for nearly three years and had not been a prob­lem.  “He always paid the rent, but, to be hon­est, it was kind of odd because he always paid with a cashier’s check,” Whitt said. Finally, after not hear­ing from the ten­ant for a while, Whitt and his wife decided to pay a visit, and they were let inside.  “The sec­ond we walked in, it smelled like dope in the house.  And we knew,” he said.  “The bad thing about it is we had our kids with us.” The house was trashed, he said.  “The car­pets were destroyed.  You could smell it in the walls,” he said.  “There were big holes in the ceil­ing, and there was duct tape around the win­dows that they couldn’t get off.” By all appear­ances, roughly half of the house was being used to grow mar­i­juana. When he told the ten­ants they would have to pay for all the repairs, things went from bad to worse.  The ten­ant stopped com­mu­ni­cat­ing with him, hired an attor­ney and threat­ened to sue Whitt for vio­lat­ing his rights as a ten­ant and for caus­ing dis­tress to his girl­friend, who was on dis­abil­ity.  His attor­ney said the man had a legal right to grow mar­i­juana for med­i­c­i­nal pur­poses. Not know­ing what to do, Whitt called the police but dis­cov­ered they wouldn’t help.  They said it was a civil mat­ter at that point. “I was blown away by all of this.  I had no rights,” he said.  “This guy had turned the tide on me.  Made me look the per­pe­tra­tor, and nobody was help­ing me.” Sounds like a night­mare.  But for land­lords, it’s become busi­ness as usual while more peo­ple come to the real­iza­tion that mar­i­juana grow­ing is no longer some­thing that con­cerns remote areas of the North Coast.  It’s some­thing that has moved into the neigh­bor­hoods.  And it’s not going away. Con­sider these lat­est devel­op­ments: * Hydro­pon­ics stores are crop­ping up all over Sonoma County.  While it’s nice to see new busi­nesses doing well, no one should be con­fused that this is trig­gered by a sud­den inter­est in indoor tomato plants.  As Staff Writer Julie John­son recently reported, Santa Rosa now has nine such shops, the sec­ond most in the state. * Lake County is in full retreat on pot reg­u­la­tions.  As a result of a cit­i­zens’ peti­tion drive that threat­ened a ref­er­en­dum, super­vi­sors there have rescinded a mar­i­juana ordi­nance that would have banned out­door cul­ti­va­tion in res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods.  A sep­a­rate ref­er­en­dum drive last year resulted in the board rescind­ing its ordi­nance reg­u­lat­ing mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries as well.  As this news­pa­per reported last week, it now appears county vot­ers will be vot­ing in June on a bal­lot mea­sure that would allow up to 12 bud­ding mar­i­juana plants in res­i­den­tial back yards and 84 on parcels of seven acres or more.  In rural areas, such grow­ing would be pro­tected under the county’s “right to farm” laws. * And last week a judge gave per­mis­sion to a Healds­burg man to seek resti­tu­tion from thugs who, dressed as police offi­cers, invaded his home, beat him and robbed him.  What is the man seek­ing resti­tu­tion for? Six pounds of mar­i­juana worth an esti­mated $18,000.  He had a med­i­c­i­nal mar­i­juana card, of course. Is every­body catch­ing a whiff of all this? This is not what most of us thought we would be get­ting when state vot­ers approved Propo­si­tion 215 in 1996.  It was sold as a “com­pas­sion­ate” mea­sure to ensure can­cer patients and oth­ers would be able to keep up their appetites.  But it’s become a joke. In some areas, it’s eas­ier to get a med­i­c­i­nal mar­i­juana card than a library card.  One 20-something Santa Rosan recently told me that all of his is friends have one.  “They laugh about how easy they are to get,” he said. Under Sonoma County reg­u­la­tions, card-holding “patients” are not only allowed to have up to 3 pounds of mar­i­juana but can grow 30 plants.  But what’s really being cul­ti­vated is an envi­ron­ment in which many peo­ple are grow­ing for more than per­sonal use, and neigh­bors and land­lords are hav­ing to deal with the residue – snarling dogs, taped– up win­dows, home inva­sions and pun­gent back­yards. Super­vi­sor Shirlee Zane told me how in early Octo­ber she accom­pa­nied sheriff’s deputies on a raid in a res­i­den­tial area off Stony Point Road just out­side Santa Rosa lim­its.  There, four res­i­dences with con­joined back­yards were the cen­ter of a mas­sive grow­ing oper­a­tion.  Four­teen peo­ple were taken into cus­tody and about 100 plants were con­fis­cated.  In addi­tion, “there were bins full of bags of mar­i­juana,” said Zane.  “There were pit bulls, video cam­eras, weapons” as well as knives and ammu­ni­tion.  “And there was also play equip­ment for chil­dren,” she said. “It was a really eye-opening expe­ri­ence,” she said.  “It made me even more con­vinced that we are headed in the wrong direc­tion” con­cern­ing mar­i­juana. That’s why, when super­vi­sors meet on Feb.  7 to vote on a new mar­i­juana ordi­nance, she wants tougher rules, such as a limit of seven med­ical mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries instead of the rec­om­mended nine.  The county decided it needed to over­haul its reg­u­la­tions after it become clear the old rules weren’t keep­ing pace with the North Coast’s bur­geon­ing new green busi­ness. “There are peo­ple who absolutely ben­e­fit from med­i­c­i­nal mar­i­juana for legit­i­mate rea­sons,” Zane said.  “But it is also fair to say that the ille­gal, under­ground, black mar­ket ( cul­ti­va­tion ) of mar­i­juana for recre­ation use is really thriv­ing – espe­cially in a down econ­omy.” As for Whitt, “I never thought in my wildest dreams I would need legal rep­re­sen­ta­tion,” he said.  But he did.  As part of a set­tle­ment that was nego­ti­ated, the ten­ants walked away while Whitt was able to keep the deposit, although it cov­ered only a frac­tion of the cost of repairs. Whitt tried to be care­ful after that.  He next rented to a older cou­ple with a daugh­ter and two grand­chil­dren who lived with them.  “But, believe it or not, they did the same thing,” he said.  When neigh­bors com­plained, he dis­cov­ered they were grow­ing out­side and in the garage. Now, he states very clearly in per­son and spells out in the rental con­tract – and encour­ages other land­lords to do the same – that marijuana-growing is pro­hib­ited. “You’ve got to call it out,” Whitt said.  “It’s really hor­ren­dous what is hap­pen­ing.” It seems to me that more peo­ple like Whitt need to call out what is hap­pen­ing and push back.  The idea of med­i­c­i­nal mar­i­juana may be OK.  But let’s not let the North Coast go com­pletely to pot. Source: Press Demo­c­rat, The (Santa Rosa, CA) Copy­right: 2012 The Press Demo­c­rat Con­tact: letters@​pressdemocrat.​com Web­site: http://​www​.press​de​mo​c​rat​.com/

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Wake Up And Smell The Pot

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