By Deb Murphy
Inyo’s Board of Supervisors will deal with marijuana regs today at 1 p.m. While medical marijuana takes center stage, the underlying issue is how the county will deal with recreational use, assuming Proposition 64 passes November 8.
California has legislation waiting in the wings giving cities and counties the right to enact stiffer regulations. The only thing local entities can’t touch would be the right to grow six plants for recreational consumption—everything else is negotiable, or ripe for stiffer regulation or prohibition, according to Bishop City Council Ryan Jones.
When Councilmembers started the discussion last week, Council member Karen Schwartz asked what information was available from Colorado or Washington. Both states legalized recreational pot in 2012. Bishop Police Chief Ted Stec and Inyo County law enforcement (at an earlier medical marijuana workshop) both expressed deep concerns.
A sceptic may assume that a county as relatively remote as Inyo wouldn’t bear the consequences of urban areas. But, according to Colorado’s Otero County Sheriff Shawn Mobley, even in a county of less than 20,000 in southeast Colorado, things have gotten complicated. “We’ve been plenty busy,” he said in a phone interview. “The majority are doing everything legally,” but Otero said, his department has seen an increase in a “criminal element” buying up private land to set up big grow operations, illegally.
The legalization of recreational pot was written into Colorado’s constitution—an egg difficult to uncrack. Six plants grown for personal use in okay. Otero County has no legal sales of either medicinal or recreational pot. What it does have is a small staff patrolling the 1,640 square miles of rural countryside.
Otero County had a drug task force, but the grant well ran dry, forcing the department to fund the task force out of pocket. “We’ve had to be creative,” Mobley said, “think outside the box. Mobley said neighboring counties are working together, sharing resources to ferret out illegal operations.
Colorado doesn’t provide any additional funding to counties to deal with marijuana issues. “The state’s Department of Revenue has investigators to enforce compliance with legal use laws,” Mobley said, but that’s it.
There really aren’t any obvious counties in either Colorado or Washington that compare to Inyo. If Mobley’s officers have trouble covering 1,640 square miles, Inyo has 10,000 square miles. Otero may see sales of private tracts for grow operations, but Inyo only has 2-percent of its land in private lands. But 2-percent of 10,000 square miles is still a lot of land.
“There’s a lot of private land near Death Valley, Charleston View, near Lone Pine, Olancha, Laws and Pearsonville,” said Sheriff Bill Lutze. There may not be enough water, but there’s plenty of land.
Undersecretary Sheriff Jeff Hollowell attended a workshop put on by Colorado law enforcement and the District Attorney’s office. The picture painted wasn’t pretty.
Colorado doesn’t identify DUI’s by alcohol or controlled substance, but, according to Hollowell, DUI’s are way up as is homelessness. “People are moving to Colorado to get marijuana legally,” he said. Lawsuits have been filed against the state by adjoining states, holding Colorado responsible for DUI crashes, thefts related to legal pot are up. Edibles targeting minors have had horrific results.
This may sound way to “Reefer Madness” to a generation that got high listening to Crosby, Stills and Nash, but that generation was smoking pot with 7- to 8-percent THC. Today’s crop is 10 times more potent.
“Growing is a science,” said Lutze. “You’ve got guys with PhDs growing.” Lutze outlined the current crop, genetically altered, tricked with light cycles to mature quickly.
Okay, but what about a comparison to alcohol or tobacco issues? “There are controls in place for alcohol,” Lutze said, noting alcohol content in liquor, etc. With pot, it’s “the wild west,” as Bishop’s council Jones said earlier this year.