Lost in the Mist: Marijuana Growers have No Recourse Against Violence

fogLost in the Mist

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Unfortunately, in the midst of the morass of law enforcement, the reason laws were made is often lost.  Basically, rules are supposed to create safety for people–for society. And law enforcement officials are there to keep retribution from leading to a Hatfield/McCoy situation.

Just recently, marijuana growers have increasingly become the victims of violent crime in our area.  The most prominent case is that of  Garrett Benson,  a former National Guard Sergeant and UPS driver murdered in his own home. More stories abound. Rumors of an armed robbery involving someone pretending to be motel security have been discussed here before. The Times Standard lists an astonishing series of articles about home invasions here and, of course, those are only the ones unfortunate enough to have drawn legal attention. And unfortunate it truly is, for the grower who is a victim of crime faces further penalties if he or she reports the crime.

Setting aside Prop. 215 medicinal growers, producers of marijuana have no recourse if they are targeted by more vicious criminals. Recently I spoke to Marc Peterson of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Task Force.  According to him, no matter how sympathetic an officer is, if a marijuana producer suffers a home invasion or other crime and attempts to report it, “We are law enforcement and do what we have to do.”

Peterson says that Garrett Bensen could have faced some sort of legal charges if he had lived.  “Everything we saw would have to be documented.”  Peterson goes on to say that the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t determine who to prosecute, the District Attorney does with the documentation provided by the Sheriffs.

The problem is, as Peterson himself acknowledged, is that if growers are unable to seek legal help, they are likely to take matters into their own hands.  In fact, I’d guess they often do.  Tales, whether fictional or fact, wind through the myths of these Humboldt Hills of individuals or groups retaliating against people who offended against our society’s moral code.

Because of the illegal nature of many people’s lives here, they don’t feel comfortable going to law enforcement. Seemingly, this often works out well enough–a rough justice is executed (see Sohumborn’s recent story.)  But, the reality is that rough justice is sometimes not justice and more than just rough—people can and do die.

And, thus, our laws designed to protect society as a whole are, in this case, actually leading to a more and more violent society. In spite of societal stereotypes, the vast majority of growers are peaceful as evidenced by the fact that the their numbers are reputed to be quite high and violence, until now, has been relatively low.  But having to serve as their own law enforcement is going to lead to increasing violence. Illegal growers will feel they have no other protection but themselves.

However, not only do illegal marijuana producers face criminal charges, the reality is that even Prop 215 growers won’t likely access friendly law enforcement. District Attorney’s office chief investigater, Mike Hislop (acclaimed in a recent murder for hire  investigation) declared that pot farmers could face charges even if they are reporting a violent crime, “They’re doing something illegal themselves.” Then when asked about those growing medicine legally under California law agreed only reluctantly that those legal growers would be free from prosecution.

Since highly profitable marijuana production is unlikely to disappear, the easiest solution is to legalize marijuana but even a serious commitment by law enforcement to provide a safe climate for growers to access legal assistance against violent crime would better the situation.

As Garrett Benson’s case clearly shows, the marijuana growers are not some ugly monsters slavering on the outskirts of society, but rather decent hard working people who could be our co-workers, our friends, our children.  We all suffer when violence walks amongst us and I’m afraid we’ll all be suffering more in the years to come unless we find some way of addressing this problem.

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45 comments

  • That is an amazing photograph. Is that what it looked like in your neck of the woods this frosty morning?

    I had a friend whose father was murdered the night before she was born. Apparently “everyone knew” who did it, and it was over a property line dispute. But no law enforcement was ever brought in. Details become vague at this point, but the murderer was run out of the area somehow. Justice? As close to justice as they could hope for?

    Anyway, this runs two ways. A young mother I knew showed up at the preschool to drop off her child. She was sporting a huge shiner. Her “partner” did had punched her during an argument. I was appalled. “Did you call the cops?” I asked. She said, “I can’t. He has a scene.” I was unsympathetic; I replied, “If he has a scene, then he should keep his nose clean.”

    These things have always bothered me about the industry. Social ills surround it. And children grow to adulthood while solutions never even get discussed, much less set into place.

    Families can’t turn to the authorities for assistance because of the taboo on anything that even remotely resembles snitching. The taboo against snitching is, apparently, bigger than the one against, for example, murdering your neighbor or beating your wife.

    The illegality of it creates all this. While it’s illegal, and has such an inflated black market value, it resides in the underworld, a dangerous place, no place for families.

    The law against marijuana doesn’t create safety for anyone, you’re right.

  • That is a beautiful capture, Kym. I guess I can’t even imagine the area in which you live. Every once in a while in my area you’ll hear of somebody growing some pot in the middle of someone else’s corn field, but nothing at all like it sounds like where you live. It is a shame there is no recourse for them.

  • Kym, I may have to sue you! I looked at your photo today and my jaw dropped so fast it dislocated!

    That is beautiful and evocative and filled with so many layers. You have captured nature as she created a work of art.

  • I don’t want to make people think it is unsafe here. I live without locking my door and leaving my purse and keys in the car. And, there are a lot of good decent people who care about their kids and their community here. We meet for potlucks and fundraisers–the usual business of the community. A certain yes-we-can attitude as well as a live-and-let-live style are shared by most people in the hills and this makes working with everybody a pleasure.

    But, ignoring the reality of a growing problem isn’t going to make it go away.

  • Archie, thank you. You should see the hills across the creek on these sunny mornings as the warm valley fog travels upward across the frosty grass. You, like I, will find it hard to remain an agnostic. I swear there are hosts of angels singing, “Glory to the Highest!” ;>

  • Kym,
    That photo stunned me! I just couldn’t stop looking at it. I would live here in a tent before I’d leave this county.
    Thanks for this post. It’s something that has always bothered me. Real criminals know they can count on victims here to keep quiet. I’ve seen small kids calling each other “Narc” as an insult. It made me laugh at first, then it made me think.

  • great photo, kym. and a thoughtful piece. damn you, you made me think today! 😉

  • Sohumborn, I suspect most of us here in the hills have lived in structures not much better than a tent for at least awhile.

    Code enforcement is going to have to contend with a vibrant community of people who are willing to put up with lacking some amenities like electricity and flush toilets in order to live in this beautiful place and, in fact are willing to fight to stay here in whatever way they can afford to.

  • Gnukid, Thank you for the compliment– even better than pleasing your eye is the idea that I tickled your brain.

  • Ah, your fog is so much more interesting than the fog blanketing Seattle at the moment. And the black and white really shows it off. Also, thank you for illustrating a problem in this country. Very often in Seattle, that “rough justice” is gang violence, followed by “no snitching.” Recently a hip-hop artist was killed at a gig at a night club. The truly sad thing is he wasn’t the one who was targeted. It’s all stupidity.

  • First, Nice photo, you know I like it or I wouldn’t say so, that’s a failing of mine. You really present the wonderfulness of our little canyon, and our people, in great light.

    Second, the Eight-Hundred Pound Gorilla is dancing with the Elephant in the room, and the Emperor without his clothes is watching it all. Marijuana is illegal, that’s what makes it valuable.

    We all know that Marijuana is used just for the fun of it more than for any great medical need, real or perceived. The fact that marijuana is illegal prevents growers from having crimes against them dealt with by law enforcement. The time to do something about Marijuana is as long past, as it is time to do something about jobs and the economy. In fact, I doubt that a lot of people would be growing weed if they could get a decent job instead.

    It is unfortunate but true, that Marijuana is probably two-thirds of Humboldt County’s economic make up. I’m afraid to guess what the percentage would be for Southern Humboldt. The other sad but true fact is that ALL businesses in Humboldt County, and especially Southern Humboldt now depend on illegal agriculture. To legalize it would kill a lot of innocent businesses, that through no fault of their own, are caught in the complicated web that has become Humboldt County, home of Humboldt Homegrown.

    The way out is not to legalize it, but start providing good jobs that will compete with the thrill of the life of the marijuana farmer. Then start enforcing the laws already on the books. That way we can move out of this mess slowly like we got into it in the first place. To legalize it now would be a catch twenty-two, it would kill the profit in the weed but it would also kill all of Humboldt Counties economy.

    Are there any clichés that I haven’t used? The reason that they are clichés is because they are so true!

  • There is an option. Get out of the dope business. Stop risking your children’s future life with parents. You cannot honestly expect law enforcement officers to look the other way.

    Legalize it if you must, the numbers are certainly there to force the issue.

  • Great post, Kym, and spot-on comment, Ernie. (Photo’s gorgeous, of course — that’s a given!)

  • rose,
    telling a guy making 100k a year to stop what he’s doing and get a job at mcdonalds seems a bit naive. like ernie said, living wage JOBS need to exist here for things to change.

    i feel bad that i have, in the past, supported policies that have driven wages in the US to the point of driving the country into a depression. that plan hasnt worked out.

  • Seriously – it strikes me that there is a correlation with the themes this week – the woman who will not leave her abusive husband, and people in this industry who feel they cannot leave.

    There are always the same excuses. He brings in the money. The dope brings in the money. How will they make it if they walk away/quit?

    There’s a sense of comfort despite the risks and bad times. This is what you know.

    Looking in from the outside it’s always easy to say, just walk away, but in fact you can. If that wasn’t true, none of the rest of the people on the planet would be making it.

    It’s a choice. And it’s one thing when it’s just you, and a boyfriend or husband. Maybe it is fun and exciting and daring. It’s another thing entirely when kids are involved as many people have learned to their despair. It is what I have never understood. Will never understand.

    There are some things money is not worth.

  • The fog crept in on cat’s feet leaving a blur upon the sharp reality of the trees, which you greeted with the camera’s naked eye.
    Somewhere in the mist, a mountain lion goes about it’s day looking for fresh prey.
    Someday, a camera will catch the great cat. If luck holds he’ll never know, and that will be that.

  • Some are in the pot business are in it for the money but a great many are in it for the lifestyle–and I don’t mean the money part. They want to live in the hills among an loose collection of like minded independent souls who have a live and let live attitude towards each other and yet are willing to work together to achieve goals.

    I think that is the most alluring part of these hills and least easy to convey to people who choose to live more standard lives. If you go to the Summer Arts Fair and delight in brown bellied girls with rings in their eyebrows and loose limbed men with long dreds and the hint of a musky smoke trickling through the exotic booths, you might like living in these hills. If all you feel is a horror at the amount of skin that is showing and a lack of interest in the colorful crowd, then you probably won’t ever understand why people choose to grow pot in order to afford to be part of the culture.

    There are very few people that can find ways to live here without growing. Most are in government jobs or retired.

  • that is almost too beautiful to be real.

  • Whether I comment or not, I come very day to look at your marvelous photos.

    “If you go to the Summer Arts Fair and delight in brown bellied girls with rings in their eyebrows and loose limbed men with long dreds and the hint of a musky smoke trickling through the exotic booths, you might…” be me 🙂 I’m truly jealous of every person who’s blessed enough to live in your watershed.

    I can’t wait until I can afford some land. Right up there across from Salmon Creek on those lovely Fruitland Ridge meadows or down Eel Rock Rd. Mmm mmm good!

  • Thank you, Elizabeth.

    Raincrow, great minds think alike. I was just over at your blog. I’ve always loved the area by Fruitland Ridge. There is a rock covered with petroglyphs that I saw one time and have always wanted to see again over there–a magic place.

    I’d tell you to look in Salmon Creek because (OK, I’m prejudiced) it is the most closely knit community and one of the most beautiful but, because of those very reasons, land is very difficult to find here and when you do, the price is scary high. Still, it is the best;>

  • “If you go to the Summer Arts Fair and delight in brown bellied girls with rings in their eyebrows and loose limbed men with long dreds and the hint of a musky smoke trickling through the exotic booths, you might…” be me, too.

    Things are not always what they seem.

  • Ah Rose, we luvs ya too!

  • Kym It took me awhile to see that this is the same view you have taken in winter sunlight. A gorgeous picture.
    The new thing about robberies is that most of them seem to be in town, these days. 215 has made small indoor grows legal, or nearly so. and our towns are full of them. What many don’t realize is that California cities are also full of indoor 215s, thousands of them. As unemployment spirals up many, many homeowners will prevent the loss of their homes by getting a 215 and putting a few lights in the garage. The result of this will be a glut in the co-ops and clubs dispensing medical pot. Dispensaries will prefer to buy locally and stop traveling to the good ‘ol Emerald Triangle. The result is the large drop in pot prices we are now seeing. The price of outdoor is nearly the same as it was in 1980. We are only beginning to see the effect of all of this on our economy. Lower prices will mean that many growers will try to grow more to maintain their lifestyle and their considerable overhead. We are about to see big changes in the pot industry here.

  • As always Kym, a truly lovely shot. Your part of the country just screams for a camera and someone with the vision to use it well, like yourself.

    Having grown up smoking dope through high school and a bit beyond (as well as partaking in other recreational drug activities) I’m hardly a prude, but I cannot quite understand the reluctance to look at the problem from the perspective of the police. A crime is a crime is a crime. If you are committing one and seek help and get caught for your crime, what is there to complain about.

    I wonder if this conversation would even be happening were we talking about meth labs….or poppy fields? Is it different because it’s pot instead of meth, coke, etc.?

  • This image reminds me of Chinese paintings. It makes me want to just sit and stare at it, daydreaming.

  • is the Humboldt home grown stuff better quality than hydroponic? I was married to a dope smoker for many years so I have no great objections though I don’t smoke myself. here in Australia, there is talk of unwanted side affects due to the strength of hydroponically grown weed. It’s been implicated in the rising number of young men suffering schizophrenic episodes (of course they need to have the gene that predisposes them to it in the first place)

    beautiful beautiful image

  • Question is, is the fog lifting or growing denser?

  • If it isn’t about the money then why aren’t the “hill folk” growing rice or corn or other legal crops? For lack of any other reason I presume it is for the money. If it were an easy lifestyle with out risk more people would be doing it. Unfortunately, there is risk involved. Someone above said a crime is a crime. It sounds like some folks believe it is ok to commit the violent crimes on folks who are committing the victimless crimes.

    As I’ve said on here before, I’m for legalizing it. But until that happens, growers run the same risks as other parts of the distribution chain: There is always someone willing to take what you have away from you if they think they can.

  • Forkboy, I’m not sure we would be having this conversation if we were discussing meth but a crime is not a crime in my opinion–jaywalking and murder are vastly different for instance.

    Let’s say you were speeding and a man drove by and shot out your car windows injuring you. Wouldn’t you feel that the police should worry about the shooter not the speeder? And even if you weren’t the speeder wouldn’t you worry that speeders might start shooting at the shooter ending in your legally driving car getting hit?

    Sophie, Thank you, what a sweet compliment.

    Nurse Myra, Humboldt has the reputation (along with its sister counties here of being the best marijuana producers in the world–seriously, we were in Germany and people knew where Humboldt was and what it was famous for.) I hadn’t heard of any schizophrenic episodes especially but there are concerns about the strength of newer strains.

    Kato, lifting, of course! I’m always for the glass half full;>

    DJ, Some people are stock brokers because of the money and some are because of the kind of people they hang around and the lifestyle they get and some because of the risky excitement.

    The reason people grow pot rather than other crops, I’d guess. Is because you can’t make enough money to survive very well. I’m not saying people grow pot from altruistic motives entirely just that money isn’t the major goal for many. If it were, there would be a lot more big grows.

    I acknowledge that the reason pot has so much value is because it is illegal. However, I’m saying that our whole community, pot growers, or not, would gain security if violence was treated as vastly more serious than marijuana growing.

  • It is a beautiful ranch that you live on, Kym.

    I am not against mariujuana, and feel that it should be legalized or whatever. However, the marijuana industry is a bubble. There are ways to survive and make an honest living in Humboldt County.

    We have College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State University to educate and train people to work.

    I work in insurance so my kids can go to college. I do not like seeing young adults that were childhood peers with my kids, trying to survive by growing pot. I do not like seeing children having to be exposed to the dark side of pot growing, and there certainly is a dark side. I also, fear illegal growing leads to more violent crimes and greed.

  • Carol, here I am specifically talking about living in the hills. We live an hour and a half from Eureka (where my husband works) we live forty-five minutes from Garberville.

    That kind of commute over potholes, dirt roads, icy conditions in the winter, etc. is only viable for people who have high paying jobs. Store clerk wages don’t cut it. There are ways to survive in Humboldt without marijuana but surviving in the hills—that takes high paying jobs of which there are very few outside of the marijuana industry.

    And, let’s face it only Government jobs are unaffected by marijuana. Many stores would not exist without it–ask Ernie. Many jobs would not exist in the stores that would remain open–Would Pierson’s be that bustling without growers? How many of your clients get some or part of their income from marijuana? (That is a rhetorical question. Please don’t answer! 8) )

    Read the North Coast Journal article by Hank here. to see the impact. Humboldt Co. is 33 best ” “micropolitan” economy in the U.S.A., out of a list of 576.” That is because of our marijuana industry. It is saving this county.

    Yes, the secrecy, the illegality is costing us, too. But, make no mistake about it, this county and the surrounding ones, owe a great deal to marijuana.

  • When this article first popped up on my blog my first thought was – exactly what Rose said

    There is an option. Get out of the dope business. Stop risking your children’s future life with parents. You cannot honestly expect law enforcement officers to look the other way.

    Legalize it if you must, the numbers are certainly there to force the issue.

    Then I read the amoral rationalization by Branscomb why the dollar trumps lives of either the complicit or innocent and I got so disgusted I waited until I wouldn’t say something disingenuous.

    Complicit crime breeds corruption; it poisons society. Growing marijuana is a crime and growers are criminals and people that talk about keeping it illegal so they can profit off these people are also criminals (and they breed little criminals). If you people are not aware of it, there is a near terrorist revolution going on at the Mexico-US border over illegal drugs that is responsible for an unimaginable number of deaths and it’s already bleeding over into this country. That is what is coming to Northern California, pure, unadulterated anarchy, if you people don’t change your way of thinking about crime and criminal behavior.

  • pure unadulterated anarchy!
    2012!
    winged pigs overhead!
    i am a gettin’ worrieder and worrieder.

  • I can’t access the good article i read recently, but what i recall is that there are more psychotic episode in first time users showing up in the young. older first time users do not suffer them as much. what i wanted to chip in was that the article mentioned that simply adding some leaf to the bud would reduce or negate the psychotic effect, by adding cannibidiol (please someone who knows this stuff, correct me if neccessary). i believe the article mentioned that the indoor strains were low in cannibidiol. i will post that link later as a reference for the psychotic episode question.

  • I think the fog is swirling…

  • The thing is, Joe Blow, that no one here is aware of the violence on the borders. It doesn’t get reported. Some of the local papers down there, maybe, but the national news ignores it and the liberal media (KOS, Huffington, Democracy Now) don’t touch it. So very very few people here have heard anything about it.

    I’ve had my eyes opened by talking to people who live there and used to live there. They’ll tell you it is bad. Really bad. Take the worst of the Humboldt county ‘disappearances’ and multiply it. regular occurrences, shootings, the sound of gunfire, the sirens, the garbage…

    I think Joe is right, much as we all can sympathize, Kym. And it is impossible not to feel empathy when we read, for example, sohumborn’s stories. Because while they may be fiction, we know there is a gritty reality to them. Slick shows like Weeds don’t have that. Shows like Weeds seduce young viewers into believing in a glamorous lifestyle dealing.

    The reality is, when there’s a grow house in our neighborhood, there’s a fire. Lot’s of fire trucks show up, and people are urged to move away because there are barrels of gasoline in the garage which may catch fire and explode. One of the guys renting the house, rather than fleeing, risks his life to help the firefighters, telling them where things are.

    Reality is the traffic that it brings in – before the fire – brings crime. Maybe minor crime, like suddenly the kid’s bikes are stolen out of the yard, but often worse. the criminal element is not just college boys out to score some weed, but real bad guys, guys on Megan’s List for example – you know what that means…

    What it means in some neighborhoods in Arcata is regular break-ins, and worse. there is a breakdown in community because of the paranoia – it isn’t like what you describe in the hills, and like sohumborn describes – the men coming together and all that – quite the opposite. Neighbors who do not grow are in real danger. There is no helping each other out. there are closed blinds, suspicious activity at all hours, pit bulls, stench, and again, the fires.

    And all for what? Getting high.

    It ain’t nuthin’ new. Been going on since I was in high school, but it is reaching a tipping point, mainly because the growing community isn’t content with live and let live and keep quiet.

  • this has been a really interesting thread. thanks olmanriver for chiming in on the problems with psychotic episodes. I’m surprised more people don’t seem to be aware of this very real problem.

    Rose’s comments are also thought provoking

  • That photo is breathtaking, Kym.

  • Here is a link to the best marijuana-psychosis article I could find. Basically what it says is that people who have a psychotic episode with marijuana are at risk to develop a schizophrenia spectrum disorder within the next few years. And they develop it younger than other people with the disorder who don’t have a marijuana induced episode. That is all, much more research needs to be done. Next they will look at whether hereditary tendencies toward schizophrenia are predictive of whether a person will have a psychotic episode from smoking marijuana.

  • thanks for the link silverstar

  • Sorry, you all. I’ve been barely keeping posts up–let alone answering comments though I have been reading.

    Joe, to me, marijuana should be legal. Setting that aside, I am most interested in this community be healthy and safe for my family and neighbors. If people are attacked and ripped off and they have no recourse, someone will eventually retaliate. We can’t ignore reality. We need to have a climate in which police are more interested in the violent crimes than the non violent. For instance, I have a vague memory (so please take it with a grain of salt) of a woman calling the police to report a rape. The officers then spent much more time investigating her neighbors’ gardens than her story. That is wrong and ultimately harmful to our community.

    Rose, some of us are aware of the drug problems in Mexico. Of course the long term solution is to make pot legal which would be harmful economically to Humboldt but would drop crime –even violent crime.

    BTW, the newest info says that marijuana is helpful with treating Alzheimers;>? Go figure!

  • How can you have a healthy community where the police concentrate on the “violent” criminal when the whole amoral community supports these criminals, whether it be “retaliatory,” a complicit exploiter or a fat-cat grower? You can try to moralize or justify this corruption all you want. It won’t change a thing. You put dollars ahead of “healthy and safe community” – people- you get an UNhealthy and UNsafe community, family and neighbor.

  • Joe, do you think someone who breaks ANY law is amoral? Cause I have to tell you, I sometimes speed as well as occasionally do a few other things. You’ve never broken a law? Ever?

  • That was quick!

    Amoral are those that condone making a buck on the growers expence while promoting hardline legal and police condemnation.

    Breaking the law is anarchy.

    Did I break the law? Ever? You can’t get out of bed today without breaking laws. Off and on during my lifetime I made a legal living as a commercial truck driver. So you tell me if I ever broke a law.

  • Whew, I thought you were saying that breaking any law made you an amoral person. As a rule, I’d say breaking a law isn’t a moral act but, like you say, “You can’t get out of bed today without breaking laws.”

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