Monday, September 28, 2009

A rural perspective on California's marijuana debate

Rural people are often depicted as facing various “threats” to their way of life as their numbers decrease. In northern California, there are increasingly reports that rural people are facing a new threat: pot growers poaching on their land. Marijuana gardens on public grounds, with the environmental degradation and safety concerns they cause, have long been a problem. Pot gardens on private land however pose additional problems. A recent news story on the issue began: “Juliette Brown once roamed freely among the buffalo on her family’s sprawling ranch in the rolling pine and oak-studded hills.” The report went on to recount how the 11-year old is now forbidden from riding her pony alone on her family’s ranch for fear of coming into contact with booby-trapped marijuana gardens on their land.

Lake County Major Crimes Unit supervisor Sgt. Jim Samples related that his unit “usually hear[s] from land owners on a weekly basis that are afraid to use their land for fear of running into armed illegal growers.” On top of safety concerns, rural landowners feel that pot growers are tapping their water supplies, polluting streams with chemicals, and poaching wildlife.

The threats felt by run-ins with pot growers have landowners taking extra precautions. Larry Mailliard, who owns about 15,000 acres near Yorkville, stated: “I’m aware of it all the time. So when I’m going someplace, I usually am armed.” He also told reporters that most rural landowners he knows have had similar problems. Given that the allure of freedom to roam open spaces and escape from urban social problems often draws people to rural areas or keeps them situated there, it is easy to understand how the presence of pot poachers is viewed as a threat to the rural way of life.

The movement to legalize marijuana has long been present in California (think of reggae’s well-known battle cry “Legalize it, Don’t criticize it, Legalize it, yeah, yeah, and I will advertise it”). That push however recently gained momentum in the California legislature. The BBC reported that State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano introduced a bill earlier this year that proposed to grant marijuana the same legal status as alcohol and tobacco.

The arguments for legalization of marijuana focus on the increased tax revenue from regulating the industry (which California state authorities estimate would bring in close to $1.5bn a year) and the effect it could have on curbing problems with international drug cartels. Legalization, it seems, could also aid rural Californians who are confronting pot poachers. With the legalization of marijuana, pot poaching in rural, clandestine locations would become less prevalent, and rural landowners would be free to roam their land with at least one less fear.


Adam W said...

Just a small aside, but one of the most politically and socially salient rural/urban distinctions relates to the 2nd Amendment. I don't believe we've discussed it in class up to this point

For people who make their living on public lands--through grazing permits, etc--laws allowing permitted individuals to carry concealed weapon in public probably makes a whole lot more sense than they do to the average urbanite.

Becky Hayes said...

Great post! I know that armed guards protecting marijuana crops is a huge problem along the Appalachian Trail as well and has been for years. I wonder if California led the way in legalizing marijuana the states along the trail would be quick to follow suit? said...

One of the problems inhibiting legalization is that people who smoke a glass pipe are not considered serious or mature. It is this stigma that scares many people who use pot to keep it a secret. It is up to us to be public about our choices and to make sure our voices are heard by the ones that ultimately decide what the rules are. Every letter you send to a representative is considered the voice of a thousand constituents that did not take the time to write.