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How Times Have Changed: When a Marijuana Farmer Cried Out, 'Thank God, the Police!'

An excerpt from "Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution" takes us to the USA's center of weed agriculture.

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Doug Fine's latest book,  Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution.

Late on the afternoon on a windy (and the blusteriness is important) summer Sunday in 2010, Mendocino County, California, deputies under the command of twice-elected sheriff Tom Allman were dispatched to a Redwood Valley farm, about 20 minutes from the county hub and two-sushi-bar city of Ukiah. According to the dispatcher, a burglar alarm had gone off— one of those jobs where the alarm company calls the authorities. It turned out the alarm’s red laser sensors were protecting a fairly fragrant one-acre, 99-plant cannabis crop. The two deputies responding to the call parked beside a three-story flag pole that was displaying what can fairly be called superlatively patriotic (in fact, sheet-size) versions of both the Stars and Stripes and the California state flag. There they were met by the farm’s chamber of commerce member owner, 33-year-old Matt Cohen, and all three proceeded to his no-longer-beeping field, which also happened to be just past his medical cannabis cooperative’s processing room.

Other than that, though, the farm looked like it could have been owned by a Reaganite, or perhaps a fairly meticulous graduate of the local 4-H Club. Sure, there was the overwhelming, unmistakable, and locally ubiquitous eau de cannabis. But you can’t breathe in Mendocino County without that. There was a Farm Bureau Member sign affixed to the farm’s front gate. There were even a couple of friendly goats. The grounds were immaculate, and the lettuce was leafing out in the front vegetable garden.

One of the deputies at the alarm sensor powwow noticed the nearby “9. 31” registration permit issued by his own department hanging rather nicely framed on the processing room wall. Chapter 9. 31 is the county land- use ordinance that created the functionally named Zip- Tie Program that bands every registered cannabis plant in the county in a bright yellow anklet. For a total annual cost to the farmer of about $8,500.

These zip ties, in turn, allow Cohen’s not-for-profit, Internet-based cannabis delivery cooperative, called Northstone Organics, to grow the 99 plants (worth close to a million dollars in the down buyer’s market of 2010), as far as the County of Mendocino was concerned. The peace officers could also see the chamber of commerce member-in-good-standing certificate posted next to the cannabis cultivation permit.

So the deputy in charge did what he does when checking up on any law-abiding citizen: He asked Cohen if everything was all right, learned that the buzzer had been a wind-tripped false alarm (no one was trying to burgle the crop this day, though it happens*), wished him a good evening, and departed, presumably feeling a sense of a job well done. Oh, and then the same thing happened again three weeks later. With the same result.

Today, the aboveground and locally legal cannabis cultivators of Mendocino County think of those alarm bells roughly the way the denizens of Philadelphia treated the peals of the Liberty Bell in 1775. Because not only had local law enforcement fundamentally (and seemingly impossibly) reversed its stance on the Drug War (even the current sheriff had busted 9. 31 permittees in the past, be fore the ordinance), but also the 9. 31 badge could be used as a valuable marketing tool for, say, Bay Area cannabis dispensaries eager to find a legal, sustainably grown source for their cannabis medicine supplies. In other words, 9. 31 could serve as a high- end brand. Like Cristal, or “Cuban seed.” But fairly traded. 9. 31. Remember that number. We’re going to be hearing a lot about it in these pages.