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GULLIXSON: Wake up and smell the pot

By PAUL GULLIXSON

Robert Whitt knew something was up 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. “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 thrashed, 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. Meanwhile, more people are coming to the realization that marijuana growing is no longer something that concerns remote areas of Mendocino County. 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 was 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.

Last week a judge gave permission to a Healdsburg man to seek restitution from a bunch of 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 every one of his friends had 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 being cultivated is an environment in which people are growing for more than personal use, and neighbors and landlords are having to deal with the residue — tall fences, snarling dogs, taped-up windows, home invasions, 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” with marijuana.

That’s why, when supervisors meet on Feb. 7 to vote on a new cap on medical marijuana dispensaries, she plans to push for no more than seven dispensaries as opposed to the recommended nine. It’s part of an overall tightening of rules in Sonoma County concerning the sale and cultivation of medical pot. It had become clear that 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 an older couple with two children. “But 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.”

The truth is, more people like Whitt need to call out what is happening and push back. Otherwise, it’s clear: The North Coast is going to pot.

Paul Gullixson is editorial director for The Press Democrat. Email him at paul.gullixson@pressdemocrat.com.





21 Responses to “GULLIXSON: Wake up and smell the pot”

  1. Reality Check says:

    What does decriminalization mean? If something is not criminal, doesn’t that make it legal?

    Trying to put marijuana into some sort of halfway zone of legality is what led us to where we are today. Which is people who pretend they are sick get marijuana legally. Can one think of a system better designed to undermine respect for legitimate laws?

    There are some things in which splitting the difference–the ever popular notion of let’s compromise–is a bad idea.

  2. Steveguy says:

    There should be a reduction in the classification of pot. As it is now pot is rated with heroin and crack cocaine.

    Decriminalization is the real answer.

    Though there may be a local glut of weed on the market, there is always the East Coast market. Any solution has to come from changing the Federal laws.

    It’s the old ” Overgrow the Government” saying. With the price reduction decriminalized pot would not be profitable by indoor growing, unless you ship out of State. Too much work and added expense. Weed is work.

  3. Unstoned Fish says:

    Vowel Movement makes valid points but these are the same points that been raised for the last 30 plus years. I personally have nothing against people who smoke pot but I am not for legalizing it. Alcohol which is legal has clearly been abused and has caused more social and personal damage than pot. I like to believe that I am a responsible drinker as I enjoy wine and being drunk offers no redeeming qualities or benefits. I think the pot/alcohol issue is simlpy a reflection of our vulgar, debasing, spoiled, comsumption ridden, selfish social culture which in turn lacks even a balanced moral structure. If we could rally around modifying these issues the pot/alcohol issue could reach a enjoyable place in society. However, at this juncture pot and alcohol are gateway soldiers to other more horrible drugs. Less exposure or better yet accessibility to youth is the best approach.

    Good luck to us. Amen.

  4. truth in news says:

    It would be a boon for farming communities if marijuana was legalized. Coffee, tobacco, mountain dew can all be considered gateway drugs. An addicitve personality will always find a way to feed a habit. Marijuana just makes the slope a little more slippery.

  5. Vowel Movement says:

    Up in Smoke… you, sir, are chock full of it. Marijuana has a documented medicinal value (your failure to acknowledge it isn’t relevant)… and is not, your uninformed opinion notwithstanding, a gateway drug.

    Consider the fact that there exists not one single documented death that has been attributed to marijuana use. No one has ever died from marijuana use or overdose. You cannot, obviously, make such a claim with alcohol, or “legal” drugs, which are singly responsible for untold numbers of deaths and associated health problems.

    Having freshly corrected your ignorance, I am fully aware that a vast majority of what is grown in Norcal is for recreational use. And yes, it is, in many cases, abused or used by those who should not be using it.

    The issue with marijuana is not it’s use or it’s effect on society. The issue is it’s very illegality. It is it’s illegality that has created our black market which has attracted undesirable elements to our communies. It is it’s illegality that keeps prices at a ridiculous level. It’s is it’s illegality that keeps us spending untold billions on its eradication and imprisonment of its users.

    We agree on one point only.. marijuana does affect your judgment and ability to operate a motor vehicle. So does alcohol. So do prescription and non-prescription drugs. No one is making a case that recreational users should use it all day long or when driving. A little common sense needs to be employed. Everything in moderation as my granny used to say (as she rolled herself one… which relieved her symptoms of glaucoma).

    There exists far too much intolerance in our society. Marijuana may not be for you. It sounds like you don’t care for it. That’s fine. That’s your choice to make.

    Who the hell are you to advocate for it’s abolition on behalf of the rest of us?

  6. Legal Eagle says:

    Looking solely at the damages caused to the house by the growing operation, Mr. Whitt should be able to get the repairs paid for by the tenant that left. A deposit may be used to cover repairs for damage “not caused by normal use or wear and tear.” Whether or not the tenant has a legal right to grow is moot. Those damages are not normal wear and tear. Further, if the repairs exceed the amount of the deposit the landlord may recover that amount by filing a court action, small claims or full civil suit. Forget the medicinal marijuana angle and focus on how the article began, a tenant gave notice, and left the property damaged. It doesn’t matter if it was from a marijuana growing operation, excessive pet damage, running a home business, or anything else, when damages are caused by anything outside of normal use of the residence by the tenant, the tenant is on the hook. It’s as simple as that.

  7. Up In Smoke says:

    Gullixson, you and others who just claim marijuana is harmless need to open you eyes to see there are real consequences to growing, selling and smoking the weed.

    There is no such thing as “medical” marijuana. It is all about getting high and escape. It is a gateway drug, and drug it is.

    There is nothing attractive about marijuana. It smells bad, it affects your judgement and ability to drive are just some of the bad things it does especially to young people who already have too many distractions.

    The Press Democrat needs to stop extolling the virtures of pot with just a few side affects that really don’t affect society, the young or people stupid enough to smoke it.

  8. Steveguy says:

    I have worked on rental properties for decades, even after evictions and I haven’t seen some surge in pot damaged properties.

    Bad tenants are bad tenants. No circulation and a couch against the wall can cause severe mildew or mold. What about the orchid growers ?

    Granted, some do abuse a place by any means, and sloppy indoor cultivation can lead to some damages. From what I hear grow rooms are generally cleaner.

    There are many that have grown indoors for decades with no adverse effects on their property. Really.

  9. Steve Klausner says:

    Well this may not look like the most reliable source but their numbers do line up US Dept. of Agriculture crop reports and a study from the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. It is also the easiest to read.

    http://www.drugscience.org/Archive/bcr2/cashcrops.html

    Legalized, the RAND report estimates the cost of growing of Marijuana would drop to $35 and ounce, which would pretty much put an end to indoor grows.

    “Marijuana is presumed to account for half to three-quarters of the Mendocino County economy, taking the place of dwindling logging and fishing industries.”

    http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20101018/articles/101019555?p=2&tc=pg

    @ Money Grubber,
    Please note I did not take a position. Also, as I sign my real name to what I write I am careful about the name calling. You should try it.

  10. Appraiser says:

    I’ve been a appraiser for 23 years and have rarely witnessed anything that the Realtor claims. lol.

  11. Realtor says:

    As a Realtor I see a lot, and I mean A LOT, of homes for sale where the former occupants have used parts of the house for growing pot. Those rooms have holes in the walls, destroyed floors, mold growing up the walls, among other things that will take a lot of money to repair. It’s really disgusting, and so so sad. Landlords be careful who you rent to, and visit your tenants often.

  12. Money Grubber says:

    Greedy people like Steve would rather than hundreds of thousands of good people arrested and prosecuted each year to keep himself employed.

    You see, Steve is likely a greedy and dirty public employee who puts himself first before anyone else.

    Aside from his greed, his statement that the local economy would “crumble” is without any factual basis at all. Just a scare tactic to manipulate voters into keeping pot illegal.

    Come on back “Steve,” and document your claim. You can’t. Its a lie.

  13. Social Dis-Ease says:

    To Steve:
    THAT’S the whole idea.
    Socially engineer OUR decline.

    Oh yeah, and we pay for it.

  14. Steve Klausner says:

    When you include marijuana, Mendocino County is the highest producing agricultural county in the nation. In Sonoma County pot out produces grapes and dairy combined. Our local economy would crumble if it were legalized.

  15. Money Grubber says:

    Brad:

    You lost money as a former landlord simply because you thought, wrongly, that your tenants personal business was your business. It wasn’t and it isn’t.

    Like the government hypocrisy of the 1930′s when cops and politicians and judges all drank illegal alcohol and still arrested other people who were drinking alcohol,,,,,, we have hypocrit cops, politicians, and judges smoking pot today as they criminally waste public money arresting and prosecuting people who use pot.

  16. Brad says:

    As a former landlord, I learned to only rent to people with a good credit reference. This shows that they are responsible and most likely not a bunch of loser pot heads and dope fiends.

  17. Money Grubber says:

    FACT: The Mexican drug cartels derive most of their profits from the illegal sales of pot on the American side of the border.

    FACT: By legalizing pot, the profits to the Mexican cartels is instantly cut by more than half.

    FACT: Those who oppose the legalization of pot most loudly are those whose job entails enforcing pot laws. Police chiefs, Sheriffs, and the army of public employees who view themselves as being wiser than the general public.

    FACT: Due to the wealth, violence, and power of the drug cartels, they have infiltrated American government and corrupted it from the border patrol to the offices of politicians. BRIBES.

    Think carefully before you listen to the lies of government. Most of the lies they spew are for the sole purpose of self promotion, self empowerment over you, or self profiting at taxpayer expense. Pot laws are the perfect example. If they cannot keep the pot illegal, then the government demands extortion money that they call taxes in order to grow your pot.

  18. Money Grubber says:

    Lets see.

    In the 1930′s, the government decided that it was wiser than the public and outlawed alcohol for about ten years.

    During that time, the mafia grew in size and strength and violence to the point of being an irreversible criminal force. Thank you, government.

    Today, the government decisded that it is wiser than the public and outlaws pot.

    During this time of outlawed pot, the Mexican drug cartels have prospered and grown in such violent strength that they have the entire Mexican government leaning on America to fight for survival.
    Yes, your American tax dollars are being used to prop up the Mexican government in the war with the drug cartels.

    Thank you, government.

    By outlawing pot for the sole purpose of keeping an army of justice system public employees on the job, you have cost America dearly.

    Of course, your army of judges, prosecutors, jailers, cops, deputies, public defenders, and clerks all love those pot laws that keep half of them employed.

    The hundreds of thousands of good Americans who now have criminal records thanks to stupidity of government are not so happy, but tough. Right?

    Yes, government really knows much more than we do. Thank you again, sirs.

  19. doodles says:

    This is another example of “careful what you wish for” and “read the fine print”. Voters: think more about what a yes vote means, whether it be costly projects like bullet trains or opening the floodgates for medical fraud. The only way this can be changed is for people like these landlords to convince voters and lawmakers to tighten things up so the laws resemble what they thought they voted for.

  20. Riverosprey says:

    The violence, drug cartels, trespass grows, and criminal behavior are all endemic to prohibition. Can you imagine anyone risking life in prison killing someone in a marijuana robbery gone wrong if the price per pound were $100 instead of $1500-2000 (yes the price continues to plummet…supply and demand).

    Any farmer in the San Joaquin could grow fields of organic marijuana for $50 pound. Semi-legal pot, sold in pharmacies would add a $20/ounce tax and sell it for $50…not the ridiculous $10/gram +/- of most dispensaries.

    Last year Sonoma County Sheriff’s dept. received 9600 alcohol related calls, and next to none from problems with people getting high on pot. Of course lots of calls due to crimes associated with prohibition.

    If anyone with a doctors prescription could simply go to the local pharmacy for pot, like many do for valium, vicoden, oxcycontin, etc. OR grow what they want in their backyard where it is worth a little more than organic tomatoes.

    Come on Shirlee Zane…more dispensaries, more personal growing, lower price and less crime. If you can’t monitor it you can’t manage it. Relegate the industry back into our parks and sanction the cartels by your prohibition.

  21. Reality Check says:

    We should be, I suppose, pleased that more people are coming to recognize the “medical” marijuana fraud for what it is. One wonders though, is it too late to turn things around?

    Gullixison offers no solution to the problem he identifies, other than we need to “push back.” And Zane remains in the fog of blaming the “down economy.”

    We’ll all be better off by deciding if marijuana should be generally available. If not, are we willing to enforce the law? If we aren’t, it’s a mistake to play a game of pretend, which is the game we’re playing today. Better to legalize it and live with the consequences. At least we’ll clearly know what to blame.