By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Andy Caffrey, the congressional candidate from Humboldt County who wears a black cowboy hat over the gray hair cascading down his back, has twice lit a marijuana cigarette in public to punctuate his support for legalizing pot.
Caffrey, who says he is a medical marijuana patient suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, said he would, if elected, smoke a joint on the Capitol steps and get arrested to underscore his point.
“I’ll do whatever it takes,” said Caffrey, a former Green Party and Earth First! activist.
But as colorful as it is, Caffrey’s pot advocacy affords him little separation from the field of a dozen candidates running for the North Coast seat in Congress.
The district, which runs from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border, includes the entire Emerald Triangle — Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties — where marijuana cultivation dates back to the 1970s and is an economic mainstay.
At least six of the eight Democrats and the two independents want marijuana — a crop worth an estimated $14 billion a year in California – approved for recreational use by adults.
The two Republicans are opposed to legalization, but one of them says pot penalties are excessive.
“It’s a beginning man,” said Caffrey, 54, who comes from Garberville in the marijuana heartland. “This is an extraordinary race.”
No one else has fired up a joint, as Caffrey did Thursday in Fairfax and last week in Fort Bragg, but in their own style, those who also back legalization include:
Susan Adams, a Marin County supervisor and a nurse, said the federal government’s war on marijuana has “wasted billions of taxpayers’ money.”
Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, supported marijuana decriminalization measures in 2009 and 2010. Both failed, but legalization is gaining momentum and will return to the state ballot, he said.
“Prohibition is a policy that by any measure is a failure — and can’t be fixed,” he said.
Norman Solomon, a West Marin author and activist, said legalization is a “civil liberties” issue and that pot prohibition has clogged state courts and overcrowded prisons.
Businesswoman Stacey Lawson of San Rafael, stipulated that land use and environmental regulations must accompany legalization.
Adams, Huffman, Lawson and Solomon are the leading contenders for the top two spots in the June 5 primary, and have plenty of company on the marijuana front from the other candidates.
Democrat Tiffany Renee, Petaluma’s vice mayor, said she wants marijuana added to the class of drugs that can be prescribed by a physician, which she called a “form of legalization.”
Allowing recreational use of pot could undermine the North Coast economy as cultivation is “taken over by big pharma and big tobacco,” displacing the region’s mom and pop growers, Renee said.
Larry Fritzlan, a Democrat and Mill Valley therapist who specializes in treating addiction, wants all substances made legal for adults over 18 and taxed like alcohol and tobacco, with the proceeds used to provide free treatment for drug-dependent people.
John Lewallen, a seaweed harvester from Philo with no party preference, said that prohibition enriches “outlaw growers” and promotes “criminal gangs spreading corruption and violence in many nations.”
Brooke Clarke of Ukiah, the other independent candidate and a retired Silicon Valley engineer, called the war on drugs “a catastrophe.”
“It’s a joke the way it (marijuana) is classified,” Clarke said, referring to the Controlled Substances Act, which lists marijuana in the same category as heroin, LSD and GHB, the date rape drug.
Democrat William Courtney, who describes himself as a “cannabis physician,” could not be reached for comment.
Republicans Dan Roberts and Michael Halliwell oppose legalization.
Roberts, a Tiburon securities broker, said he supports California’s medical marijuana program as the “will of the people” and — like most of the other candidates — considers the federal government’s crackdown on pot dispensaries a “misuse of resources.”
But Roberts said “more research is needed” before marijuana can be legalized.
Halliwell, a retired college professor from Cotati, also criticized the recent dispensary raids and said the war on drugs “should concentrate on drugs much more dangerous than marijuana.”
Pot penalties are excessive, Halliwell said, but he opposes legalization proposals like Proposition 19, which was rejected by 53.5 percent of California voters in 2010 but approved in Sonoma and Marin counties.
Marin Democrats who favor legalization have “Marinjuana policy,” Halliwell said, noting that 62 percent of Marin voters favored Proposition 19.
How well legalization resonates in the Emerald Triangle is open to question, as voters in all three counties opposed the measure.
Caffrey, who promoted Proposition 19, said the “heart of the resistance” in Humboldt was concern that pot prices would plummet with legalization.
A Rand Corp. study in 2010 said the retail price of marijuana would fall, likely by more than 80 percent, if pot became legal.
If the pot prohibition were lifted nationwide, Humboldt growers would prosper from a vastly expanded market and the “Humboldt brand name” synonymous with potent weed, Caffrey said.
Proposition 19 failed, in part, because it was poorly written and prompted critics to say it would lead to a “patchwork of regulation,” said Huffman, one of few state legislators who supported the measure.
But sentiment is shifting, he said, suggesting that Californians are now ready for legalization and the rest of the nation “needs to catch up.”
“I think that is the inevitable outcome,” he said.