◼ Push for pot regulation; amid federal activity, many still support oversight, regulation of pot industry - Thadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard
When he looks across Humboldt County, District Attorney Paul Gallegos can't say he's surprised with the proliferation of marijuana growing operations or with the environmental damage they bring.
”It's the same sort of thing you would get if you suddenly deregulated any other commercial endeavor,” Gallegos said. “If we had fishing without limits, there'd be no fish in the ocean. Imagine what the forests would look like if we had timber harvesting without oversight or regulation.
”With marijuana, we have an illegal industry running parallel with a putatively legal industry -- all totally unregulated,” Gallegos continued. “The natural result of this is you have complete adverse environmental impacts and adverse social impacts. That's what we're dealing with.”
The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office is teaming up with federal agencies to target some of the largest grow operations in the county, with Sheriff Mike Downey saying that cracking down on illicit grows is his top priority for the year. But the effort makes for some unlikely bedfellows, as some of those very same federal agencies have worked to block local and state efforts to regulate medical marijuana....
Randy Wagner, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's special agent in charge of Northern California operations, said Downey has been great to work with. Wagner wouldn't specify how targets are being chosen for raids and search warrants, but said his department isn't interested in going after “the sick and the dying.”
Wagner also made clear it that, in his department's eyes, there is no such thing as legal marijuana sales or cultivation.
”We don't target medical marijuana, but we target drug traffickers and drug trafficking organizations. Period,” he said. “Our priorities and mission haven't changed. We're always targeting groups or individuals who are cultivating or producing and distributing large amounts of drugs.”
Targeting the “biggest and the baddest,” as Wagner put it, is a good thing, according to Gallegos. But, he said, it really only addresses part of the issue. No law enforcement agency, individually or collectively, has the resources to go after everyone, he said. Regulation would be a huge step in bringing the grows that are in compliance with Proposition 215 under some type of monitoring, diminishing abuses of the law and ensuring the environment isn't being destroyed.
”The two options I see are the federal government needs to change the stance it's taken with California's government's ability to regulate, or the state has to simply say, 'We accept your challenge, and we will move forward,'” Gallegos said. “At some point, the community needs to be able to step in and say, 'This is an act we have legalized and now, as with every other legal activity of humanity, there need to be rules and regulations associated with it.”
”It's time to bring it out of the hills, into the open and permit it, and let our regulatory agencies go in and inspect it, just like they would with any other type of agricultural product,” he said.