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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.

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So, “medical” it is in Mendocino County in 2011. Even if you believe, wrongly, that the whole idea of medical cannabis is a load of bunk, that is frankly irrelevant, from a “bailing out bankrupt governmental coffers at all levels from the federal to the local” perspective. In fact, the fellow whose department benefits from the proceeds of the Zip-Tie Program, the very fellow evangelizing Ordinance 9. 31 in neighboring counties and states, more or less agrees with you.

The first time I met with Sheriff Allman, in his office full of valor citations and flanked in the hallway by framed photos of every other county sheriff since Mendocino’s 1850 incorporation, he told me that, in his view, “maybe five percent” of medical cannabis claims were legit.

That’s his view, not the law’s: The wording of California’s successful 1996 Proposition 215 ballot initiative allows for medical use of cannabis to treat “any . . . illness for which marijuana provides relief.” Some other state programs are much more restrictive— in cases like New Jersey and New Mexico perhaps too much so, as a glance at the body of medical research indicates.

During our second interview, Sheriff Tom (it’s an informal county) said something telling while giving me what I had learned is the standard honest law enforcer’s line about how much he’d rather get a call that involves someone using cannabis than an alcoholrelated one, let alone one involving cocaine, meth, or prescription drug abuse. I think the way he phrased it was “I’ve never seen a stoned man beat his wife— he generally just plays video games.” With those words, a thought occurred to me. I asked him if that might be considered effective medicinal use and therefore bump up his 5 percent legitimate use estimate.

“What?” he asked. “Playing video games?”

“Cannabis— what would you call it?—mitigating potentially violent tendencies in, say, an undiagnosed chronically depressed person.”

“OK, maybe 20 percent,” the sheriff amended curtly but with typical good humor.

Tom Allman likes his job. Our third interview had to be delayed 20 minutes while he cradled office and cell phones and resolved a violent dispute at a local indigenous casino. Then he clapped his hands once, apologized, sat down, and said, “Where were we?” In 1984, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that allowing VCRs to record programming did not in itself violate the federal Copyright Act of 1976 unless the copied material was used for a “commercial or profit-making purpose.” In other words, even if huge numbers of people didn’t use the devices legally (you know, without the express written consent of Major League Baseball or HBO), those who did still had a right to own them. The ruling is widely considered to have launched the multibillion-dollar home entertainment revolution that today brings us, for better or for worse, Ishtar via instant download from nearly any spot on Earth. 

Similarly, with cannabis, I discovered that assertions that many essentially “healthy” people (baseball-game tapers, in the VCR example) were obtaining doctor referrals for cannabis is irrelevant. For one thing, if production of the plant we’re discussing becomes legal for broader uses, from housing insulation to poison-ivy tincture to Middle East dispute resolution, you can just add on a few zeros to the billions in value you’ll see it already generates within the confi nes of its medicinal designation. So that’s just an additional upside. For another, even within that medical realm, all I needed was one Carl Reid to know that medical cannabis brings people genuine relief that they can’t find elsewhere. If those who use it “just” for stress relief tag along with that, it’s a small price to pay. Totally worth it. Here’s why: