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