LAYTONVILLE — Rumors of vigilante marijuana eradication operations continue to circulate and grow in Mendocino County since a spate of summer pot raids ignited tales of unidentified men being dropped into gardens from unmarked helicopters.
More than 100 people on Sunday attended a meeting with Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman, where they raised questions about the mystery men and other pot-related issues. The Sheriff’s Office earlier had reported that county- and state-sanctioned marijuana eradication efforts had taken place in the same areas and at the same times as the alleged vigilante operations but it has done little to quell fears that a private group, possibly backed by a drug cartel, is behind the assaults.
While no evidence of such operations has materialized, many in the marijuana community say the number of stories alone is cause for alarm.
“I can’t ignore the volume of observations that is shared in the community,” said a young marijuana grower who declined to give his name.
The meeting took place at Harwood Hall in Laytonville, a one-time logging town where now an estimated 90 percent of some 1,200 residents are believed to be involved in some capacity with marijuana cultivation and sales.
“The economy is based on it,” said Jude Nagle, a member of Laytonville’s Garden Club, which sponsored Sunday’s meeting, the eighth in the group’s Cannabis Renaissance lecture series.
Many meeting attendees said they knew someone who had fallen victim to the mystery eradications, but Allman said he needs firsthand accounts before he can launch an investigation.
“If you are a person with firsthand knowledge, I’d like to talk to you,” Allman said.
Only one person at the meeting had an eyewitness account to share.
Butch Small said he went to investigate when he saw a helicopter drop men onto a neighbor’s property in Potter Valley almost three weeks ago.
The men were not wearing badges or other identifying items of clothing and refused to say who they were, he said. One simply showed him the sleeve of his long-sleeved shirt, which had “police” printed on it.
The pot raiders proceeded to cut down 55 plants being grown on Susan Schindler’s two parcels, he said. The plants were a rare genetic strain that she was growing for sick people, Schindler said. Under Mendocino County’s medical marijuana ordinance, up to 25 plants can be grown per parcel if a person can provide adequate medical marijuana recommendations. But state and federal authorities aren’t required to follow local rules.
Some of the meeting’s attendees suspect cartels are hiring vigilantes to raid pot gardens in an effort to prop up declining prices. Others believe it is a private person with a grudge against marijuana growers. Schindler suspects the men who conducted the raid might have been hired by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
The meeting ended with a plea from the meeting’s moderator for people with evidence of illegal pot raids to provide it to Allman.
“We need facts. He needs facts,” said Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the Emerald Growers Association, a pot advocacy organization.
You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @MendoReporter.