Sheriff: I Just Want Cannabis Off the Front Page
July 10, 2013
Mendocino County, Calif. Sheriff Tom Allman calls the decision to permit his county’s cannabis farmers (even before federal law changes) part of his “law enforcement evolution.” A local boy, he knew how eighty percent of his Emerald Triangle economy was derived. As a newly elected Sheriff, he flew over his jurisdiction and thought, “So that’s how that conservative Republican pays two Stanford tuitions.”
Allman had what he told me was a “startling revelation” following the passage of California’s 1996 ballot initiative Proposition 215 (the Compassionate Use Act of 1996), which allowed for medicinal use of the cannabis plant in the Golden State. While to this day he maintains that he is simply “required to enforce the law” and is “neither pro- nor anticannabis,” what he noticed was that, contrary to what he’d been raised and trained to believe, “the sun still rose, and there was still an America” in the days and years after the 1996 election.
And so fourteen years passed. Finally, with budget cutbacks threatening eighteen percent of his force in 2010, he decided to acknowledge “the T Rex in the room” and sign on to the “Zip-tie” cannabis permitting program which I covered in my book Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution. Locavore farmers could buy bright yellow bracelets (the Zip-ties) for their crop, avoid raids, and rejoin aboveground society.
Six hundred thousand dollars was raised from one hundred brave farmers who just wanted to be taxpayers in 2011. The deputy jobs were saved, cartels were hurt and patients benefited from safe, organically grown domestic cannabis. But the program’s administrator, a former drug warrior, said the real reason the program is a nationwide model is “it brought an entire swath of the community back into the law-abiding fold.” In other words, millions of Americans break no laws except exhibiting friendliness to one of humanity’s longest utilized plants.
But Sheriff Tom, as Allman is known locally, couldn’t and wouldn’t have implemented the Zip-tie program if cannabis wasn’t just widely used, but also relatively benign. The biggest problems in Mendocino County, he told me in our first, second, and third interviews, are “meth, poverty and domestic violence. Marijuana isn’t in the top ten.”
Study after study indicates that cannabis is (especially compared to alcohol and America’s real epidemic: prescription pill abuse) safe when used responsibly. It’s not meth. It’s not alcohol. It doesn’t make people violent. It’s thus not a problem to Sheriff Tom, who told me at a Fourth of July picnic that his view of cannabis is “Smoke it till your head caves in. I don’t care. I just wish I could get it off the front pages so I could have more time to deal with the real problems in this county. This is my biggest dream.”
It’s also one shared by many of Allman’s constituents: While it’s by no means unanimous, I met no shortage of local cannabis in the Emerald Triangle activists who want to be a test case. They’re ready for legitimacy.
Allman, in his words, was “simply obeying county nuisance regulations” by implementing the nation’s first cannabis permitting ordinance. The Zip-tie program cost about $8,500 per farmer for ninety-nine plants with a final cannabis dispensary value of around half a million dollars.
In its second full year following a 2010 revamping, the Zip-tie program was so successful that at least two neighboring (and similarly economically struggling) California counties were considering a similar job-creating, public safety-increasing program – that is, until the U.S. Attorney’s Office for California’s Northern District threatened the program’s farmers and administrators. This outrageous action (hopefully for a short time and for the last time) once again sent America’s number one crop underground. At one point during the federal harassment Sheriff Tom even send me an email jokingly asking if I’d bail him out if necessary.
Of other law enforcement or prosecutorial minds not open to his “the sun still rose” realization, Allman said, “Maybe it’s time for them to retire. My dad ran a liquor store. He raised me to believe the damn hippies were ruining the county. I see now that they’re helping save it. My dream is to be able to stop talking about cannabis—get it off the headlines—so I can fight the real problems in this county. I care about this even more than raising my own kids right.”
Doug Fine's weekly Drug Peace Bumblebee columns first appear on the National Cannabis Coalition. Reprinted with permission.