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Vote aimed at curbing pot growing in Calif. county
Marijuana Misgiving 6071828
George Hanamoto inspects some marijuana plants he is growing as his wife, Jean, right, looks on at their home in the Mendocino County community of Willits, Calif., Wednesday, May 28, 2008. Under a law passed in 2000, county residents may grow up to 25 marijuana plants for medical, recreational or personal use. A measure before county voters in the June 3 primary would scale back the law only allowing six plants to be grown. George Hanamoto, 74, who uses marijuana to relieve glaucoma and for back pain, said cutting plant limits would hurt people like him because growing conditions mean he can't always get the maximum out of each plant. - photo by Associated Press
    WILLITS, Calif. — Voters here took the state’s official permissiveness on marijuana to new heights in 2000, allowing residents to grow up to 25 pot plants for medical, recreational or personal use.
    But eight years later, some are campaigning to scale back the local law, saying it’s time to weed out pot profiteers in this rugged region of Northern California.
    ‘‘We want to take that welcome mat away,’’ said Ross Liberty, spokesman for Measure B, which goes before Mendocino County voters Tuesday.
    Opponents say they, too, want to evict large-scale, criminal operators, but maintain that Measure B will affect the wrong people.
    Measure B ‘‘redefines who gets arrested and the ’who’ will be medical patients that are growing more than six plants,’’ said Laura Hamburg, who became active in the ‘‘No on B’’ campaign after her medical marijuana garden was raided.
    The issue offers a glimpse into the murky world of medical marijuana in California, legal under state law since voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, banned by the feds and, according to some reports, bringing some serious green into the Golden State.
    State lawmakers allowed counties to issue ID cards to protect medical users from being prosecuted by local authorities. Each cardholder is allowed to have up to a half pound of dried marijuana or six mature marijuana plants, although local governments can set laws exceeding the state’s limits.
    Federal authorities, denying that marijuana has medicinal value, never recognized Proposition 215 and have won a number of legal showdowns over the measure.
    In 2000, Mendocino County voters approved Measure G, which set a 25-plant limit and also permitted personal and recreational use — the latter a symbolic gesture since state law doesn’t permit it.
    Measure B would repeal that measure and set plant limits at state levels. It’s not entirely clear what that will mean since the state guidelines are at issue in a Southern California court case that is under appeal.
    Sheriff Tom Allman said the problem with the 2000 measure was that it gave the impression marijuana had been legalized in Mendocino County.
    ‘‘There’s this perception that we’re just a bunch of Cheech and Chong marijuana growers up here,’’ Allman said.
    Mendocino County is famous for its ancient redwood groves and breathtakingly beautiful coast, but has long also been famed as a source of high-grade pot.
    Estimates on how much money is generated by marijuana in Mendocino County and statewide vary; officials say it’s hard to come up with a definite total since so much of the industry is clandestine.
    The state’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) said more than 220,000 plants were seized in Mendocino County last year, up from about 136,000 the year before. Statewide, CAMP reported seizures of 2.9 million plants with an estimated wholesale value of $11.6 billion.
    Hamburg grows medical marijuana for herself, her mother and her sister as well as a neighbor. She was raided last year by deputies who said they found an excessive number of plants.
    The charges were later dropped, leaving Hamburg determined to ‘‘work as hard as I could, as much as I could, so that no one would have to experience what I went through, which was devastating.’’
    Hamburg noted that CAMP stats show Mendocino County ranked fourth in 2007 seizures. No. 1 was sparsely populated Lake County, which follows the state minimum of six plants, with nearly 483,000 plants seized.
    The sheriff said some residents complain they can’t sit in their backyards because the smell of the next-door marijuana patch is so strong.
    In August, said Liberty, ‘‘it smells like pot everywhere. It just reeks.’’
    On the other side of the Measure B issue are George and Jean Hanamoto. Lavender and other carefully tended shrubs bloom in their attractive front garden on a wooded hillside. And in the back yard are their marijuana plants.
    Hanamoto, who is 74 and uses marijuana to relieve glaucoma and for back pain, said limiting growers to six plants would hurt people like him because growing conditions mean he can’t always get the maximum out of each plant.
    The sheriff said the Hanamotos aren’t the kind of people he’ll be sending deputies after. Allman said he will continue to concentrate enforcement on large operations.
    ‘‘I want the rest of the state and possibly the nation to say ‘Wow, we can’t do whatever we want in Mendocino County,’’’ he said.
    The Hanamotos aren’t won over by arguments that Measure B will deter criminal operators.
    ‘‘The laws are there already,’’ said Jean Hanamoto. ‘‘This is just to squash the little guy.’’

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