Chronic City: Big Marijuana Headache For Mendocino District Attorney

Mendocino grow room: Puff, puff, pass? Not so fast
It's not easy being a district attorney, especially in a mostly pot-friendly place like Mendocino County. Whatever law enforcement priorities you follow, it's guaranteed you're going to piss off one group while pleasing another.

Mendocino D.A. Meredith Lintott has gotten a compelling refresher course this week in just how precarious it can be hacking your way through the jungle of competing interests when it comes to enforcing widely unpopular Marijuana laws in northern California.

Limited budgets, limited staffing, limited time -- all of these things are faced on a daily basis by the D.A.'s office. Even though it shies away from using words like "overwhelmed" when describing its caseload, the office could still be excused for having something of a besieged bunker mentality. Every arrest generates piles of paperwork; cumulatively, law enforcement efforts generate what must be an intimidating mountain of bureaucracy-ridden documents.
County of Mendocino
District Attorney
Meredith Lintott

Lintott says she was just helping to set work priorities for her office during a period of short-staffing when she made the decision not to pursue basic pot cultivation cases -- which she defined as cases involving fewer than 200 plants or 20 pounds. She says it was a temporary guideline, never intended to be made public, and wasn't mean to indicate a new policy for the District Attorney's office.

But a week after an internal memo containing the guidelines was leaked to a Ukiah newspaper and made public, Lintott is under heavy fire (predictably) from zealously frothing anti-pot, law-enforcement types and (perhaps equally predictably) from some of her conservative constituents -- presumably the same folks who, last year, voted in Measure B, which repealed a 2000 ballot measure decriminalizing cultivation of up to 25 plants for personal use in Mendocino.

Lintott, who was not happy the memo escaped her office, told the Ukiah Daily Journal that she wrote the document after losing three experienced attorneys -- one to retirement, one to resignation and one who was fired -- and having two more attorneys missing work for medical reasons. The attorneys, known as "4s," signifying the top level of experience, are the only ones Lintott says she could use in Marijuana cases. The D.A.'s office is left with only five "4s" -- three in Ukiah, one in Willits and one Fort Bragg -- all of whom are busy with murder, rape, and home invasion cases.

Lintott's memo indicated that if a Marijuana case is rejected by the D.A.'s office, the attorney can write "Good investigation of incident - insufficient staff," signaling that the case could be revisited as soon as staffing permits. She also said that if law enforcement really feels a particular case should be prosecuted, they can come to her and make their case. Once she has the staff, according to Lintott, some of the cases that were rejected could be revisited.

Cases involving firearms, suspects with criminal records, the use of paid workers, the presence of children, commercial sales or other factors making the incidents more serious are still to go forward, according to Lintott.

But all of this, apparently, isn't enough for the rabid drug warriors in Mendocino law enforcement, who seem to demand an oath of of fealty to the drug war. Heaven forbid -- apostasy! -- that anyone should ever question the almighty importance of their War on Pot, no matter what!

"There's a lot of heat falling my way," Lintott told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat yesterday.

Ukiah Police Chief Chris Dewey didn't miss the opportunity to wave the bloody shirt of drug-related violence -- itself, of course, a product of prohibition and attendant huge profits -- in front of the good citizens of his town. "We don't want to have a house that's converted to a commercial grow station and have the neighbors on either side of that house be at risk of a home invasion robbery," he darkly told the Press Democrat. "We're continuing to enforce the rules as we've always done. I don't want the message to be in our community that it's OK to grow Marijuana."

Fort Bragg Police Chief Mark Puthuff enthusiastically joined the whine-fest. "I can just tell you that it's been a bit frustrating," he told the press. "And I have tried not to politicize the issue [yes, he really said that!], but I can assure you that I and Chris Dewey, we're doing our part to safeguard our communities and our people, and the mission's clear for us."

Lintott, aware that she's stepped into a hornets' nest, has since sent a letter to the county sheriff and local police chiefs requesting that they "reassure" their staffs that her office is "committed to prosecuting cases and working with you to enforce the law."

The D.A. said she hopes to be back to full Marijuana prosecutions -- business as usual -- soon.

Wild guess: That'll happen right around outdoor harvest time.

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