By Mark Gutglueck
For decades medical and mental health professionals warned about the toll that long-term or even shorter duration use of marijuana could have on an individual, impairing his physical and psychological well-being, power of recollection, cognitive skills, reasoning ability and sanity. And while the scientific data to back those caveats remains scattered, incomplete, inconclusive and less than fully convincing in all of its aspects, significant evidence accumulated over the last six years since California’s legalization of marijuana for its intoxicative effect shows that the widespread availability of the substance in the Golden State has resulted in a collective psychosis, one in which governmental function has become outright schizophrenic and compromised by clouded institutional memory.For nearly a century in California and elsewhere in the United States, the growing, harvesting, curing, warehousing, refinement, sale, possession or use of marijuana for any purpose was a crime. Those convicted were subject to harsh punishment, including, in some cases, decades-long prison sentences. In 1996, against the sentiments of the state’s governmental, social and legal establishment, California’s voters, through the passage of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act, legalized marijuana use for medical purposes for those who could obtain a prescription from a licensed doctor. This had some impact around the margins, but the vast majority of the state’s more than 58 counties and 470 municipalities refused to provide permits for marijuana dispensaries operating within their respective jurisdictions. There was widespread suspicion that those who were seeking and obtaining prescriptions on medical grounds were malingering, feigning or faking symptoms or illnesses to obtain the drug not for its palliative or curative effects, which many considered in any event to be a chimera, but so that they could use it recreationally, i.e., to get high. In many cases law enforcement officers and agencies monitored closely the dispensaries that did exist, learning who those outlets’ suppliers and customers were, subjecting them to further investigation, action or arrest based upon still existing prohibitions against the substance. Doctors who issued prescriptions for marijuana were subject to close scrutiny by the state’s medical licensing board. Those physicians who routinely issued such prescriptions fell under suspicion of engaging in malpractice. Some had their medical licenses revoked. All were subjected to at least occasional accusations of quackery. “Patients” who obtained prescriptions and customers who shopped at existing dispensaries were required to provide both sellers and the government identification, leading to their being placed in a database of known marijuana users and a watch list. Politicians and community leaders, somewhat unrealistically but in many cases convincingly, spoke about or threatened action to rescind the marijuana liberalization that came with the passage of Proposition 215, creating the specter of future arrest and imprisonment of those who were foolish enough to purchase their medical marijuana from state licensed dispensaries.
Simultaneously, the popular appetite for marijuana far outran the practical means of the government and those who manned the government to control it, although such an effort was still being made.
Reliable statistics on the use of marijuana during the first half of the 20th Century are not easily available. Based on arrest, prosecution and conviction data, there was a modest uptick in the general public’s involvement with marijuana in the 1950s, one which was minor in comparison to the relative explosion of marijuana use in the 1960s, particularly by the then-younger set. The trend continued but at a slower pace into the 1970s and 1980s, with use leveling at relatively stable levels in the 1990s and tapering off slightly at the Millennium, if surveys, in which self-reporting by people who were yet subject to harsh penalties for marijuana use or simple possession was a primary feature, are to be believed.
Whereas throughout the 1960s and right into the early 1970s, the vast majority of illicit marijuana available for sale on the streets was cultivated outside of the United States, primarily in Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America and smuggled into the country, by the mid-1970s, a domestic cultivation culture had developed. In short order, the amount of U.S. homegrown marijuana burgeoned such that by the mid-1980s, more than half of the marijuana being sold in America was a product, albeit unregulated, undocumented and untaxed, of the U.S.A. Continuing and only slightly reduced in terms of overall volume were importations of the substance grown elsewhere. Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies found themselves having to deal with, and overwhelmed by, traffickers in both foreign and domestic marijuana.
In 2000, California and seven other states had legalized marijuana for medical use, though none had legalized its use for outright intoxicative purposes. At that time, as is currently the case, marijuana was yet under federal law a Schedule 1 narcotic, on paper no different than heroin, morphine, cocaine or methamphetamine. In 2001 and in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the broad application of the Controlled Substances Act, first in U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Co-Op and then in Gonzalez v. Raich, ruling, respectively, that neither medical need nor prescription creates an exception to federal marijuana prohibition and the federal government’s power to enforce marijuana prohibition in states that had legalized medical marijuana use remained intact. In California, both local government officials and law enforcement employees coordinated with, cooperated with, encouraged and abetted federal authorities in operations and raids against medical marijuana facilities that had opened up in compliance, or virtual compliance, with California law.
Entrepreneurs who sought to live within the State of California’s legal rubric applying to marijuana sales met with varying degrees of success and failure, including failures which entailed being subject to federal prosecution and ultimately financial ruin and incarceration. Paralleling, indeed dwarfing, those efforts was the traditional “black market,” the variously independent or loosely knit or highly coordinated network of underground marijuana growers, transporters and sellers.
If officialdom had been thwarted in eradicating problems represented by marijuana proliferation previously, it was during the first decade of the current century that marijuana use in general throughout the United States and in California specifically raged to a level entirely beyond control. In 2000 and 2001, marijuana use among virtually all age groups in the country, including the crucial bloc of high school students, had dipped, though not substantially, from what had been the case in the mid-1990s. Then, however, surveys indicate, between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013, frequent use, defined as once a week or more, more than doubled.
Resentment among marijuana consumers/customers and would-be cultivators and retailers arose, as the perception that local governmental officials were defying the public will as expressed with the passage of Proposition 215 by blanket policies denying operating permits for marijuana dispensaries. There soon followed a reaction.
In San Bernardino County, most notably in the larger cities and particularly in the county seat of San Bernardino, a new phenomenon put itself on display: entrepreneurs who took to heart the spirit of Proposition 215 and began operating dispensaries by simply registering each store as one featuring health products or botanicals, or as a tobacconist, smoke shop or general retail establishment without explicitly disclosing that marijuana was being offered as a commodity for purchase. A discovery curve for the municipal authorities would ensue, lasting anywhere from a day or to several days to a week, weeks, a month or even longer before the sale of marijuana at that particular retail was noted, which would then be followed by code enforcement officers descending on the business or a police department raid in which the marijuana on hand would be seized and a civil injunction against the operation in that location would be sought from the Superior Court and issued, resulting in the shuttering of the store.
In short order, the store operators would seek and obtain a city business license for another location and the process would repeat itself. The money to be had from marijuana sales was in most cases substantial enough to allow those operators to recoup their rental, start up and marijuana stock purchasing outlays and secure a profit of lesser or greater extent. A lien against the property would be filed, though such an imposition did not hurt the marijuana sales business operator but rather the landlord. Cities would seek to impose fines and penalties of up to $1,000 per day against the business operators, many of whom walked away and could not be tied to the property in question. Efforts to collect the fines were met with repeated challenges of their constitutionality, and the courts proved unwilling to issue orders for payment, based upon state voters’ approval of Proposition 215. While the fines were not banned, per se, they weren’t collected.
With dozens, then scores and then hundreds of iterations of operations opening, being discovered, being closed down, popping up elsewhere and then going through the operational and shuttering process again and again and again, San Bernardino City Attorney Gary Seinz in 2014 at last made an open public declaration that the effort to prevent dispensaries from operating in the city was “futile. We continue to expend valuable and limited police, code enforcement and attorney resources with frustratingly insignificant results,” he said, adding that the expenditure of money, time and resources in the effort to keep the dispensaries from operating had “little effect on the entire city.”
Meanwhile, the efforts to deal with the would-be dispensary operators who were ready to function in the open, selling “legal” medical marijuana and abide by both state and local regulations diverted the resources that had historically been applied by law enforcement agencies to bring drug dealers to justice. Virtually anyone who wanted to obtain marijuana could buy it from a local drug pusher or duck into any of a number of unlicensed dispensaries operating out of storefronts, if only for a short duration before the authorities would put the kibosh on them and send them to another short-lived storefront operation.
In some cities in San Bernardino County a decision was made or was about to be made that rather than trying to beat those intent on becoming medical marijuana entrepreneurs, they should join them.
In Needles, San Bernardino County’s smallest city population-wise located at its extreme east end, across the Colorado River from Arizona, the city council in 2012 chose to let that city become the first jurisdiction in San Bernardino County to permit medical marijuana to be sold. The council gave approval to five dispensaries. In time, the city welcomed, as well, marijuana cultivation facilities.
In November 2014, voters in Adelanto’s municipal election made a clean sweep of incumbents Mayor Kari Thomas and councilmen Charles Valvo and Steve Baisdan, replacing them with Rich Kerr as mayor and John Woodard and Charley Glaspar as councilmen. In November 2015, Kerr and Woodard, with the enthusiastic support of then Councilman Jermaine Wright and the less enthusiastic support of Glaspar, voted to accept 25 applications for what was said would ultimately be no more than six to eight marijuana cultivation operations that would be limited to operating in a strictly circumscribed portion of the city’s industrial zone. In order to get Glaspar, who had retired from the Air Force as a master sergeant after 28 years’ service before working as a civilian employee with the U. S. Army Airworthiness Flight Test Directorate at Edwards Air Force Base, to support entangling the city in a tax revenue producing scheme involving marijuana, Kerr, Woodard and Wright assured him the program would be limited to the growing of marijuana that would be wholesaled to retailers located outside the city and that marijuana would not be sold within city limits.
In December 2015, the day the city began to accept those applications for the marijuana cultivation permits, scores of people showed up at City Hall to file their applications at the city’s planning counter, so many of them, in fact, that the line they formed snaked through the building into the foyer and out the front entrance. Many of those applicants bore briefcases load with cash.
Part and parcel with the cultural ethos that was long imposed on California’s residents by its politicians and the social establishment in control of the government was the basic belief that marijuana is bad. As once articulated by Senator Jeff Sessions, who would become under Donald Trump the U.S. Attorney General, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” The drug was, marijuana availability opponents felt, plain and simply “immoral.” It was anathema to the rule of order and a civilized and peaceable society, and decent people simply did not use it or tolerate its use by others. Those participating in the marijuana culture tended to be or were on the brink of becoming, those within officialdom felt, elements of the criminal underworld, and that encompassed anyone who used the drug and possessed it in relatively minute quantities for personal use, as well as those who sold it and those who transported it, grew it or imported it into the country from elsewhere. Those members of the subculture who were caught by law enforcement at whatever level of their involvement were deservedly and should be uniformly subject to harsh, even brutal penalties to suppress their urge to use it. Pot smoking was not only illegal but a severe moral failing, those advocating against its general social acceptance maintained, and those who profited by the sale of the substance were parasites feeding upon society and trafficking in human misery such that they were deserving of the decade-long prison sentences which had formerly been imposed by the state legislature and the courts rather than the mollycoddling that they were receiving in the wake of the passage of Proposition 215, which should be rescinded. They and those in league with them throughout officialdom, including the overwhelming majority of San Bernardino County’s elected local officials, believed holding the line on the issue and maintaining a ban on the permitting of dispensaries was the right thing to do and the will of the majority expressed in the passage of Proposition 215 was an irrelevancy. If people wanted to indulge themselves in intoxicating themselves, the establishment consensus was those so intent should seek to do so through a bottle.
Moving toward 2016, a groundswell of California residents who were completely out of step with the values and attitudes of the local government establishment in San Bernardino County and elsewhere recaptured the intensity and intention toward cultural and social change that had manifested nearly 20 years earlier with the passage of Proposition 215. In this instance, marijuana was again the focus, but they would take things much further. Gone were the pretensions that marijuana was to be embraced as a curative or medicine. By their reckoning, intoxicants have been with the human species since time immemorable. To them it was clear: On the list of benign, or relatively benign, intoxicants, marijuana ranks well above alcohol, indeed near the top and on the list of malignant intoxicants it falls at or near the bottom, far below alcohol. The measure they sought to place on the ballot was dubbed “The Adult Use of Marijuana Act” and it called for allowing anyone over the age of 21 to purchase and possess up to one ounce of the drug and to be able to use it for intoxicative or recreation purposes. Needing 365,880 valid petition signatures to qualify the measure for the statewide ballot, its sponsors gathered more than 600,000 signatures. When then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office performed a signature-sampling tally that project at least 402,468 of the signatures submitted were valid, equal to 110 percent of the required number, those assigned to the task quit counting and declared the measure eligible for the ballot.
Placed before California’s voters in all 58 counties as Proposition 64 on November 8, 2016, it passed with 7,979,041 votes in favor or 57.13 percent to 5,987,020 votes opposed or 42.87 percent.
As much as Proposition 64’s passage represented a cultural and social watershed in California and the United States, it was an even more drastic turnaround in San Bernardino County, where the official and establishment attitude toward marijuana was far more serious and the penalties for its use, possession and trafficking more harshly applied.
Elements of that turnaround would prove highly hypocritical and outright shocking.
In Adelanto, hardly had the applications for the marijuana cultivation operations been filed than the three-member ruling coalition on the council – consisting of Kerr, Woodard and Wright – began discussing and openly ruminating upon how the city’s limited set of programs relating to commercial cannabis were unequal to the opportunity that lay at Adelanto’s feet. The city had taken in 25 applications in December 2015 from among the nearly 170 individuals, entities or companies that had shown up to make those applications. Amid speculation that cash contained in the briefcases of many of those who had materialized at City Hall on the day the city began accepting those applications had been provided to city officials to influence their decision on which six to eight of those applicants would be granted permission to proceed, the city announced it was ready to accept any number of such applications going forward and that there would be no limitation on the number of indoor marijuana-growing nurseries that could be built in the city’s industrial zone.
In 2016, with Proposition 64 qualified for the ballot, Kerr, Woodard and Wright, knowing they had three votes to prevail in any vote of the council, were no longer concerned about keeping Glasper lined up in support of their stated agenda to get cash-strapped Adelanto in on the ground floor of the coming marijuana-based economic boon. They floated the idea of dispensing with the artificial limitation of just allowing the growing of marijuana in the city’s industrial areas and instead opening the way for companies that wanted to utilize the available supply of marijuana to refine it, extract the resins and cannibinoids it contained for use in manufacturing or producing medicinal compounds, liniments, salves, or edible forms of the drug. Moreover, Kerr said, the city needed to seize the day and alter its earlier game plan to embrace the reality that marijuana would soon be accepted as a fully legal intoxicant. It should clear the way, before the November 2016 election, he said, for the permitting of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city’s commercial zones. Upon the anticipated passage of Proposition 64, those dispensaries could be converted to full-scale marijuana emporiums, ones where marijuana for medical use and recreational use could be sold to the public. The city had the opportunity to become, he said, “the marijuana capital of California.” He recommended that preparations be made to found a college or university in Adelanto, an institute of technology devoted to analyzation of all things related to marijuana and cannabis, a research facility where the extent to which and how marijuana can be used for medical, industrial, clinical and social purposes is determined and cataloged.
In San Bernardino, then-Third Ward City Councilman John Valdivia, who celebrated himself as a fiscal and social conservative, had long before gone on record as being determined to counteract the proliferation of unpermitted dispensaries throughout the city. In 2016, city residents used the petition process to place an initiative, designated Measure O by the county registrar of voters, on the November ballot, on which Proposition 64 also appeared. Measure O called for allowing marijuana sales to take place in San Bernardino subject to a set of regulations. Measure O passed with 26,037 votes or 55.12 percent in favor and 21,196 votes or 44.88 percent in opposition. The city challenged the terms of Measure O in court, obtaining a ruling from a San Bernardino County Superior Court judge invalidating it. An appeal to the Fourth District Court of Appeal, however, vacated that ruling and Measure O was restored.
In the meantime, Valdivia in 2018 vied successfully for mayor. While serving as mayor he also operated a lobbying/consulting business known as AAdvantage Comm LLC. After the city got around to accepting that it would need to welcome marijuana-related and cannabis-related business in the city, it conducted an application process for 17 such businesses beyond the two dispensaries that had been established in the immediate aftermath of Measure O’s passage and before the eventually overruled decision by the Superior Court that temporarily invalidated Measure O. By late 2019 and into 2020 there was revelation after revelation indicating that Valdivia, through Aadvantage Comm, was working on behalf of at least eight of the applicants for the marijuana-related and cannabis related permits in San Bernardino. Despite both the San Bernardino Police Department and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department being presented with evidence that Valdivia was engaging in a conflict of interest involving his public position as mayor by representing entities with business before the city, both agencies declined to investigate the circumstance further.
By mid-2016, Adelanto was rife with rumors, reports and descriptions of Kerr, Woodard and Wright receiving bribes and kickbacks from many of the more than 50 applicants for commercial cannabis-related and commercial marijuana-related permits that were eventually granted by the city. At council meetings over which Kerr presided as mayor, often in front of dozens of witnesses, applicants for some of those permits would provide Kerr’s wife, Misty, with envelopes stuffed with cash. When questions about the practice surfaced, those inquiring were told that the money was intended as donations to Mrs. Kerr’s charity.
The City of Adelanto had once boasted its own police department. In 2002, the city dissolved its municipal police force and contracted with the sheriff’s department for the provision of law enforcement services. That is still the case. Efforts to interest the sheriff’s office in delving into the kickback arrangements involving the marijuana-related businesses that had set up in Adelanto and the members of the city council were unsuccessful.
In November 2017, Adelanto Councilman Jermaine Wright was arrested by the FBI and charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with accepting a $10,000 bribe delivered to him by an undercover FBI agent who was posing as an applicant for a permit for a marijuana distribution/transportation business. Wright had accepted the money, consisting of 200 $50 bills, in exchange for his assurance that he would see to it that the city’s marijuana business zone would be expanded to include a warehouse the FBI agent represented he had secured for the trucking operation’s base and his promised intercession to prevent the city’s code enforcement division from interfering with that business when it was engaged in carrying its marijuana cargo. Wright was jailed immediately and removed from office in January 2018. He went to trial on the matter earlier this year and was convicted in June.
In May 2018, the FBI raided Kerr’s home as well as his office at Adelanto City Hall. In 2018, Kerr along with Woodard failed to achieve reelection. In August 2021, Kerr was indicted by a federal grand jury on seven counts of honest services wire fraud and two counts of bribery relating to votes he had made in supporting the cannabis-related and marijuana-related commercial permits of individuals and entities kicking money back to him. This week, he signaled his intention of entering a guilty plea with prosecutors on a single bribery charge to bring that matter to a close.
In 2017, the City of Hesperia passed an ordinance which, while maintaining its longstanding ban on storefront retail sales and the outdoor growing of marijuana, allowed companies based in a circumscribed district within the city, the so-called “green zone” between Santa Fe Avenue East and I Avenue, and Juniper and Smoke Tree streets along with a few parcels running along I Avenue between Juniper and Lemon streets, to operate marijuana delivery services.
City Manager Nils Bentsen assigned one of his highest-ranking underlings to oversee the city’s energetic enforcement and regulation regime relating to the 21 commercial cannabis delivery companies operating in the city. That individual developed a taste for some of the products those companies were delivering. In his function as a regulator, he grew what was termed “way too close to certain businesses in the cannabis industry” while he was, the Sentinel is told “going after others.” A circumstance had evolved where that staff member was “getting free edibles from the cannabis companies he was supposed to regulate,” according to an individual familiar with the situation. This proved to be highly embarrassing to Bentsen. Those companies providing the Hesperia city employee who was supposed to be regulating them with some of the projects they sold was interpreted, widely, as a form of bribery that had compromised Hesperia city staff and the city’s cannabis delivery program.
In early 2019 more than two years after the passage of Proposition 64, officials with the City of Barstow, prompted by citizens inquiring as to when the city was going to get around to updating its ordinances regarding both medical and recreational marijuana sales, quietly formed an ad-hoc committee to look at whether eliminating the city’s ban on commercial marijuana activity was worth considering, and what the ins and outs were of allowing the cultivation, sales, distribution, and manufacturing of marijuana, cannabis or cannabis-based products in the city, pursuant to a licensing or permitting regime, one that would entail requirements that such operations meet a set of criteria, be licensed as businesses within the city and be subject to a tax specifically levied on the growers of marijuana or the manufacturers and purveyors of cannabis or cannabis-based products. The ad-hoc committee’s discussions were not done publicly. Unbeknownst to the public, at least initially, was that Councilman Rich Harpole was the chairman of the ad-hoc committee. Eventually, the existence of the committee was revealed, and shortly thereafter it was learned that Harpole was its chairman.
For many, this was troubling. Harpole had been a member of the council since his initial election in 2012, which had followed his retirement from the Barstow Police Department, with which he had worked for 24 years.
Harpole had first come to the Barstow community in 1983 at the age of 25 as he was nearing the end of his hitch in the U.S. Army. His military occupational specialty was that of a field 31 military policeman, and he had been assigned to Fort Irwin as an investigator. It was at that time when he met his future wife, Donna, whom he married just about a year later. Shortly thereafter, he was discharged from the Army, and he hired on with the Barstow Police Department as a police officer. Over the next two dozen years he rose to the rank of lieutenant before retiring.
During that time, in various capacities with the department, Harpole had either directly or indirectly dealt with well over 1,000 marijuana law offenders of all types, from major traffickers who were caught while transiting through Barstow to large scale dealers to petty dealers to pot smokers to those discovered to be in possession of a minute quantity of the contraband. A primary element of his assignment during his last decade-and-a-half with the police force was overseeing drug interdiction efforts. In essence, Harpole spent a significant portion of his law enforcement career participating in throwing people in prison for their involvement with marijuana and disfiguring them with criminal records that in some fashion compromised or destroyed their reputations and ability to obtain employment.
By 2019, he had been retired for just about ten years and was pulling a $77,700 per year pension. In April of that year it was disclosed that he was the head of the city’s ad-hoc committee looking into whether and how Barstow would get in on a piece of the marijuana action, that is the city availing itself of revenues to be generated from the sale of marijuana, money which as a pensioner with the city, he will share in. It was not lost on at least some Barstow residents that in just about a decade Harpole had done a 180-degree flip in which he went from locking anyone who had involved himself with marijuana up to arranging, as a city official, for the city to turn a profit off allowing the sale of marijuana within its municipal limits.
Boldly, some people asked whether, in the aftermath of the change in California law and Barstow officials’ acceptance of a taxing scheme on using marijuana sales as revenue source, Harpole felt he could justify to himself having engaged in applying the authority of arrest and initiating the prosecutions of individuals who had previously used the sale of marijuana as a revenue source for themselves, which had the potential for subjecting, or actually subjected, them to incarceration. In the face of that question, Harpole remained mute.
When queried directly about whether he saw any contradiction or conflict in his role as the city’s prime mover toward enabling the availability and sale of marijuana for its intoxicative effect vis-à-vis his past efforts to prevent marijuana availability to individuals and the public or if he perceived there was for him any sort of personal moral dilemma and if he felt any qualms with regard to it, he steadfastly maintained his silence. Nor was he willing to say whether he had abandoned his earlier belief that the sale of marijuana was rightfully deemed a felony that mandated prison time, and he was equally reticent in the face of inquiries as to how he felt it justifiable for the city and city officials to participate in a financial free-for-all and be recipients of a windfall involving the sale of marijuana.
Unwantedly, Harpole found himself to be the poster child for the hypocrisy that was bedeviling California officials, in particular California law enforcement officials, over the marijuana legalization question. In December of that year, Harpole resigned as a member of the Barstow City Council, saying he and his wife were going to move to Texas to be closer to their daughter and grandchildren.
In 2000, Bill Postmus was elected to the position of First District San Bernardino County Supervisor. Four years later, Postmus was reelected to the supervisor’s post and chosen to serve as the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee, as well. In his original configuration as a rock-ribbed conservative, Postmus was adamantly opposed to both the legalization and the availability of marijuana. As far as Postmus was concerned, the liberalization that had come with the 1996 passage of Proposition 215 was unwelcome, wrongheaded and should have been rescinded, since giving marijuana the status of medicine merely provided a way for those who wanted to obtain it for its intoxicative effect a means for doing just that. Throughout his time on the board of supervisors, Postmus was at the forefront of those holding the line against cannabis legalization. Legalized availability of marijuana would never happen in San Bernardino County as long as he was in office, Postmus vowed, because the use of the drug was “immoral.” When anyone suggested that marijuana dispensaries be permitted to operate within the county, Postmus dismissed the suggestion, and he derisively characterized those who made such suggestions as indolent potheads who either bordered on or had crossed the line into being degenerate drug addicts and/or criminals.
Postmus had substantial political support throughout the county. In 2006, he successfully ran for assessor, the county’s highest taxing authority. In 2008, however, Postmus’s once-promising political career imploded. In 2009, he was shown, despite his rhetorical denunciations of liberals and the drug culture, to be hopelessly addicted to methamphetamine. He resigned his position as assessor that year and in 2011 pleaded guilty to 14 felony political corruption charges.
In 2013, Postmus began the long climb back to political rehabilitation. No longer able to hold elected office in California because of his criminal conviction on a violation of the state’s public official conflict of interest code, he reinvented himself as a political consultant and lobbyist to get himself back into the political game, doing so under the guise of Mountain States Consulting Group, a limited liability company he had registered with the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office.
Postmus’s previous condemnation of marijuana and all that it represented has been nowhere in evidence since he donned the persona of a political influencer.
With his longtime political affiliate and business associate, John “Dino” DeFazio, Postmus has a financial interest in a marijuana cultivation operation in Needles.
In 2017, Postmus and Mountain States Consulting Group were instrumental in convincing Hesperia city officials that they should consent to allowing Hesperia to become the third city in San Bernardino County to permit commercial cannabis businesses to operate within its confines. This was no mean feat, as the community of Hesperia, even before its 1987 incorporation, was among the most socially conservative spheres in what has historically been one of the more socially conservative counties in the entirety of California. Through his personal connections with two of the Hesperia City Council’s members, Paul Russ and Rebekah Swanson, whom he had assisted in their respective 2014 and 2016 successful election campaigns, he was able to convince the Hesperia Council that it should take the baby step toward accepting the “new morality” that permits marijuana use among the population, not by permitting industrial scale cultivation operations or retail outlets, but rather by approving an ordinance allowing cannabis product delivery companies to function out of a circumscribed area within the city’s industrial district.
Postmus had not been out front, at least initially, about being involved in Adelanto’s original effort to transition to a partial cannabis-based economy that took place under Kerr, Woodard and Wright. Nevertheless, Postmus had been a mentor to Jesse Flores, who had served first as Adelanto’s contract economic development director during the first part of Kerr’s tenure as mayor. Kerr and Flores had devised the intensive pay-to-play system by which applicants for marijuana-related and cannabis-related business licenses could translate generosity to the city’s politicians into approvals of those applications. Kerr and his council colleagues had the city enter into a contract with Flores for his services as Adelanto’s economic development director by which Flores was given the assignment of recruiting businesses to set up shop in the city’s various commercial and/or industrial/manufacturing zones. Under the terms of that contract, Flores was not restricted from entering into a separate professional relationship with any other entities, including the businesses he was courting to locate in the city.
Consequently, Flores was free to accept money from any businesses which were based in Adelanto. Flores was given to understand very early on that Kerr, Woodard and Wright were looking to put the welcome mat down for business looking to grow marijuana, refine marijuana, manufacture cannabis-based products, warehouse marijuana, distribute marijuana, wholesale marijuana and ultimately retail marijuana. He conducted himself accordingly. The extent to which Flores went to work as well for the applicants for the city’s marijuana-related and cannabis-related commercial operating permits is not known, since as a contract employee, he was not required to disclose his various sources of income. Ultimately, Kerr and Woodard along with Joy Jeannette, their ally on the city council who was elected in a special election to replace Wright, promoted Flores into the city manager’s post, a position he yet retains.
In the November 2018 election, Kerr and Woodard were voted out of office and Glaspar, who was descending into the throes of dementia, did not seek reelection. They were replaced, respectively, by Gabriel Reyes, Stevevonna Evans and Gerardo Hernandez, all of whom had offered themselves as reformist candidates intent on ridding the city of the corruption fueled by the money that was being handed around by the investors looking to get rich off of marijuana-related and cannabis-related businesses they were seeking to establish in the city.
A promised first order of business for the newly-elected trio was to be the firing of Flores, to then be followed by the city’s methodical disengagement from the marijuana-related and cannabis-related commercial enterprises that Kerr, Woodard and Wright had entangled the city with and who had been responsible for the bribe-provision half of the formula that had led to Wright’s arrest and prosecution and which created the atmosphere in which Kerr and Woodard were yet being cut in on Adelanto’s marijuana bonanza.
The will to cashier Flores failed to effectively materialize. He was left in place. With Kerr, Woodard and Wright out of the picture, the effort to influence the Adelanto City Council to stay the course and give the strategy of transforming Adelanto more fully onto a marijuana-based and cannabis-based economy a chance recontexted itself. Within six months, the city council collectively, with the lone exception of Councilman Ed Camargo, who had consistently over the previous four years resisted the efforts to convert Adelanto into a staging grounds for marijuana production, was parroting Kerr about how marijuana offered the city economic benefits that were available in no other way.
In addition to running the city, Flores took as one of his primary responsibilities facilitating the introduction of the members of the council with the marijuana/cannabis entrepreneurs who were making such a huge gamble by investing in their city.
At least some of that effort blossomed into something fruitful.
Word soon spread that Evans, a single mother, was dating Brad Eckenweiler, the chief executive officer of Lifestyle Delivery Systems, a Canadian company that was establishing a laboratory and production facility in Adelanto for the extraction of cannabinoids and resins from marijuana being grown in the city and then used to created concentrates and to infuse edibles and other products to be marketed internationally. There were further reports that after Flores convinced the city council to expend some $126,000 in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security funding, also known as CARES Act proceeds, on a
2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, Flores would regularly use that luxury vehicle to chauffeur Reyes and Hernandez and then later Reyes and Councilman Daniel Ramos on tours of the city’s marijuana and cannabis operations in which the elected officials became familiar with the businessmen who were setting up operation in their city and familiarized themselves with the wares they had to offer. Flores also used the van to drive Reyes and Hernandez and then Reyes and Ramos along with entrepreneurs contemplating a move to the city on excursions to various spots within the city where those business might conceivably locate.
By 2020, it was recognized that Postmus had inserted himself into the Adelanto commercial marijuana frenzy, perhaps from the beginning, representing various entities who were interested in adding their companies to the roster of marijuana-related and cannabis-related businesses operating there. Postmus was able to tell his clients that based on his long-extant relationship with Flores, he could ensure that the city manager would escort their proposals through the approval process. On at least one occasion, Postmus told a prospective marijuana cultivation business operator that he need not fret that the City of Adelanto would discontinue its policy of facilitating the nascent marijuana/cannabis industry, as was demonstrated by Flores not letting the federal corruption charges lodged against Wright and Kerr deter the city in granting marijuana/cannabis-based companies operating permits in the city.
While some of the revenue that was promised to Adelanto as a consequence of its energetic marijuana cultivation and cannabis-product marketing permitting strategy has been realized, there have been multiple complicating factors that have prevented the city from reaping the spectacular financial rewards that have been touted all along as the justification for taking center stage in California’s marijuana exaltation.
Indispensable to a marijuana cultivation operation, let alone a thriving one, are dual water and electrical utilities. Adequate light and water are needed to grow marijuana. One condition posed upon licensed marijuana cultivators in Adelanto and virtually everywhere else in the state is that the cultivation take place indoors. Unless a marijuana growing nursery is to incorporate glass greenhouses or buildings with sunroofs, a significant amount of electricity is required to operate high luminescence lights. Moreover, given the deviation from natural sunlight patterns that is used to allow growers to harvest not just one but three crops per year, growers can use as much as 18 to 20 hours of lighting during the vegetative stage of the plants to get them to grow and create adequate leaf development before converting them to a 12-hour lighting/12-hour darkness schedule to induce flowering. This entails a substantial need for electricity.
Water must be available for irrigating the plants. In many cases in Adelanto, indeed in more cases than not, the properties purchased for marijuana cultivation and provided permits for doing that do not have any utility hook-ups. Some such properties have hook-ups but those are not adequate for the industrial scale cultivation the owners of the businesses intend to carry out. Consequently, those businesses have lain fallow, have not produced any actual income for the business operators and have not generated any revenue for the city beyond the initial fees paid for the application process and basic operating permit.
Moreover, the record keeping and accounting the city has undertaken to monitor the marijuana-related and cannabis-related businesses permitted in the city is plagued by inadequacies. In some cases, it appears that fees were either waived or their payment delayed. The listing of businesses between 2018 and 2019, between 2019 and 2020 and between 2020 and 2021 is inconsistent. The accounting on receipts for six businesses in 2019 is not provided or unavailable. The accounting on 13 businesses in 2020 show no receipts or wholly unavailable information.
In 2018-19, the city reported collecting $268,457 in gross receipts from its cannabis tax. In 2019-20 the city reported collecting $600,000 in gross receipts from its cannabis tax, which was more than the $100,000 it had projected receiving at the start of the fiscal year. In 2020-21, the city reported collecting $1,500,000 in gross receipts from its cannabis tax, which came in above the $500,000 the city projected it would receive. In 2021-22, the city reported collecting $2,085,000 in gross receipts from its cannabis tax, which was below the 2,545,000 the city hoped for at the start of the fiscal year. In 2022-23, the city is projecting it will bring in $1,950,250 in cannabis tax.
In Fontana, Mayor Acquanetta Warren has been a central political figure since she was appointed to the city council in 2002. She was then elected to the council in her own right in 2004, reelected in 2008 and elected mayor in 2010 and thereafter reelected mayor in 2014, 2018 and in 2022. A no-nonsense pro-law enforcement Republican and close Donald Trump associate, Warren from the outset of her time in public office took a stand against allowing cannabis to seep its way into her city. She repeated over and over her adamant opposition to allowing dispensaries to set up in Fontana. She reiterated that principle in the aftermath of the 2016 passage of Proposition 64. Marijuana, for either medical or recreational purposes, is not going to be for sale in Steel Town, she vowed.
That commitment was made before her “friend,” Bill Postmus went to work on her two years ago. Warren has now come to understand that marijuana is the wave of the future, and resisting that reality is pointless, she maintains.
After years of blocking the city council from considering or even so much as discussing permitting any form of commercial cannabis activity in the city, Warren consented to the council taking up an ordinance on the issue at its July 12, 2022 council meeting. That ordinance calls for the city continuing to ban, at least for the time being, cultivation, manufacturing, testing labs or combined operations. The city will, however, permit business that engage in the sale of the final product by delivering it to customers or by selling it out of no more than three brick-and-mortar locations, one of which is to be located north of Baseline Avenue, another between Baseline and Valley Boulevard and another south of Valley Boulevard.
Warren had authorized Assistant City Manager Phil Burum to state, during the presentation of the ordinance prior to the city council’s discussion and vote, that city leaders had come to the conclusion that cannabis liberalization entailed “community benefits in the form of income to the city generated by legally authorized cannabis retailers.” Those benefits would include, Burum predicted, “additional police officers… social services… [and] general community benefits,” which he said would extend to funding “park maintenance and upgrades” and city “operational expenses.”
During the council discussion, Warren utilized an explanation that Postmus suggested she make, one that implied that she was not opposed to marijuana use by members of the public now that she understood, after having assimilated the results of the vote on Proposition 64, that it was her constituents’ will that it be made available to those who want to use it.
“I have researched this issue for years since this first came up,” she said. “I was in shock when they released the data on the voting when this first came before all of us in the state. Fontana came out high in terms of supporting this effort.”
She made no repetition of her past insistence that pot smokers were moral reprobates and that use of the drug would transform normal and functioning people into indolent and aimless personalities, burdening the society with costly problems that could not be redressed before she voted to approve the ordinance.
In January 2021, then-Sheriff John McMahon had his department embark on an aggressive and concerted marijuana eradication effort that would subsequently, in September 2021, be dubbed “Operation Hammer Strike.” It targeted unlicensed and unpermitted marijuana cultivation activity. Generally speaking, the operations pursed by McMahon’s department were ones located within the desert areas of the county. Initially, that effort was primarily carried out in the Mojave in the area mostly west and northwest of the San Bernardino Mountains, in the areas in and around Cajon, Phelan, Pinon Hills, Oak Hills, Hesperia, Baldy Mesa, Victorville, Apple Valley, Lucerne Valley, Oro Grande, Helendale, Silverlakes, Hinkley, Four Corners, Barstow, Yermo, Newberry Springs and Ludlow, with occasional forays elsewhere, including some bootleg farms in the San Bernardino Mountains and operations in the metropolitan areas of the county.
The lion’s share, indeed virtually all, of the operations taken down were ones that were outdoors, functioning in the relative open, generally using sunlight to cultivate the plants, with a handful involving glass greenhouses. In some cases, the natural sunlight was augmented with artificial lighting. In some cases, the operators of the farms were pirating electricity through bypasses, tapping into nearby power lines or rigging connections to electrical outlets on nearby properties. Virtually all involved questionable diversions of water, including thefts from nearby systems or drafting water through existing wells outside the required reporting of that water use to the Mojave Water Agency as was required under the adjudication of water rights in the region that took place in the 1990s.
The sheriff had been encouraged in that effort by local officials as well as then-Assemblyman Thurston Smith, who represented the High Desert in Sacramento.
The board of supervisors took note of what McMahon had begun and in June 2021, just prior to McMahon’s resignation as sheriff, which was followed by the elevation of Undersheriff Shannon Dicus to replace him officially beginning in July 2021, the supervisors at the last minute adjusted the 2021-2022 county budget with a $4 million earmark generically intended for “code enforcement,” but which was meant to empower Dicus to continue with Operation Hammer Strike.
By that point, the program had begun to range beyond the western Mojave and had moved over to the desert area east of the San Bernardino Mountains, including Johnson Valley, Landers, Wonder Valley, Twentynine Palms, Desert Heights, Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley and the Morongo Basin.
Dicus and his department were lauded for the effort.
Supervisors Paul Cook and Dawn Rowe, in whose First and Third supervisorial districts the county’s desert area is located, were among the most vociferous elements in advocating action to shutter the illicit marijuana farms.
In some cases, those planting marijuana on a patch of ground out in the desert did so on property they actually owned or had some right to occupy. In many instances, the farms had materialized on land without the knowledge of the property owners. Boldly, banking on the possibility that an absentee landowner would be unlikely to visit property located in such remote reaches of the county’s harsh desert outback very often, outlaws would trespass without regard for the implication of what they were doing and the violent reaction their action might provoke.
In some cases, the cultivators went to elaborate and dangerous lengths to protect their crops from poaching or interference, including arming themselves and those overseeing the crops, booby-trapping the periphery of the cropland or the property involved and threatening, intimidating or outright assaulting adjoining or nearby property owners.
To ward off plant-eating bugs, growers commonly utilize pesticides during the growing process, which when used unregulated, injudiciously or indiscriminately can represent an environmental hazard.
In myriad ways, the illicit marijuana farms represent a hazard to the well-being of county residents, most particularly those who live in the area where the illegal activity is taking place and the property owners whose land has been commandeered, who are therefore subject to danger when seeking to access their own property, either by armed and hostile intruders or by the booby traps strewn about their land, some involving particularly vicious means, including explosives and antipersonnel ordinance that can blind, maim or kill, not to mention the legal risk a property owner uninvolved in any such cultivation on his or her property is subject to if law enforcement officers or prosecutors resolve to redress the situation on the assumption he or she is involved.
For those and other reasons, the effort by the department, first under McMahon and subsequently under Dicus, was and is positively received.
Nevertheless, there are aspects to it that are highly problematic.
One consideration is the cost effectiveness of the effort.
A factor at play is what is accomplished by having law enforcement expend its resources in chasing down marijuana offenders in the current legal atmosphere.
Previously, arresting a prolific marijuana grower, if followed by what was at that time likely to be a successful prosecution, could put the offender into prison for years, with a five-year sentence at the low end and more typical sentences running to closer to ten years. Today, the penalty for growing marijuana, even in massive quantities, is comparatively slight.
Proposition 64 made it legal for anyone to grow up to six plants. Furthermore, it reduced the penalty under California law for illegal cultivation of more than six cannabis plants from a felony to a misdemeanor with a maximum six months in jail and no more than a $500 fine, whether the cultivation in question consisted of seven plants or 70 or 700 or 7,000 or 70,000. Law enforcement officers’ reward or incentive for engaging in marijuana interdiction no longer consists of getting a perpetrator off the streets for an extended period of time and thus making life on the streets safe for law abiding citizens. Rather, that reward amounts to simply reducing the flow of marijuana to the public, a seemingly meaningless accomplishment considering the flood of marijuana flowing through the marketplace.
For decades, while marijuana was a strictly illegal substance, law enforcement was in constant pursuit of those who were importing, smuggling and transporting it; growing it and refining it into concentrated forms such as hashish and hash oil; warehousing, wholesaling and retailing it; and those buying, possessing and smoking it.
Law enforcement over the years had obtained information about the culture that had grown up around those they were pursuing, and they applied protocols, means, methods and technologies, including the development and adaptation of devices and equipment, scientific and otherwise, to ferret out where marijuana is being grown, stored, stashed or used.
For their part, traffickers, cultivators, dealers and users had been equally, and in some cases even more, observant of those who were pursing them. Those who purchased and sold marijuana, particularly in high volumes as a way of life, ran the risk of spending many years, indeed more than a decade in some cases, in prison. Yet over the decades, beginning in the 1960s among those who smuggled and sold the drug and starting in the 1970s among those who were cultivating it, a degree of sophistication had developed which included the means of countering the methods and technologies being used by law enforcement against marijuana offenders. No sooner would authorities find or adapt some technical innovation they could and did use in their favor in the anti-marijuana campaigns they and their colleagues throughout the country were undertaking than the traffickers and dealers would learn of it and adopt an offsetting strategy or technique of their own to stay ahead of those who were pursuing them.
A case in point was, and is, the application of multispectral imaging.
In addition to covering the range of light visible to humans in the 380 nanometers-to-780 nanometers wavelength range, a multispectral device is capable of further detecting electromagnetic wavelengths beyond what the human eye can capture, including those in the ultraviolet spectrum ranging from 10 nanometers up to 380 nanometers as well as those in the 700 nanometers-to-1,100 nanometers near infrared range, 1,300 nanometers-to-3,000 nanometers mid-infrared range and the 3,000 nanometers-to-1 micrometers far infrared range.
The radiant green coloration of marijuana is distinct from that of in excess of 99.9872 percent of all other known and cataloged plants on Earth. By installing a multispectral imaging devices in combination with sensors in helicopters or airplanes and flying those craft at what has been determined to be an optimum altitude, spotting marijuana patches of even less than moderate size has been a method employed by law enforcement agencies in the United States in marijuana eradication efforts at least since the 1990s, the effectiveness of which was refined in the following decade, such that it was once considered virtually impossible for growers to have their crops elude detection if the aerial multispectral imaging strategy were deployed in their area of operation.
Nevertheless, marijuana growers have learned that by surrounding and intersticing their marijuana plants with a combination of other plants with foliage which the human eye recognizes as ranging between darker greens and lighter yellow greens, detection by multispectral imaging can be defeated.
A decidedly low tech means in the arsenal of law enforcement that has been used to collar drug dealers and drug mules for nearly two generations are drug sniffing dogs. Dogs have between 125 million to almost 300 million smell receptors – giving them a sense of smell on average of roughly forty times as sensitive as that of the average human. Certain breeds of dog at the higher end of that scale which are trainable make excellent search dogs, ones that can be programmed or specialized to look for many different substances, including explosives or drugs. Employed in this way, dogs can be used to ferret out marijuana, which is a particularly pungent commodity. This makes those trafficking in marijuana particularly vulnerable to detection, no matter what lengths those attempting to hide it by vacuum packing it, encasing it in multiple layers of surrounding material, or freezing it go to.
Still, sophisticated operators in the marijuana trade have long known that by storing their marijuana in a place where the approach to it entails a limited set of choke points through which a dog must pass, using a combination of blood laced with a variety of substances including alum, gunpowder or a variety of particulates/powders soaked in certain industrial solvents or chemicals spread about that entrance, a dog’s acute olfactory power can be temporarily deadened upon getting a literal snootful of what has been left for it.
Well beyond 95 percent of the activity of the officers involved in Operation Hammer Strike has been devoted to locations in the desert. The obvious success of that effort, attested to in the impressive volume of marijuana seized, nevertheless belies the substantial amount of marijuana being grown elsewhere in the county unmolested. In particular, marijuana is being grown in the mountains of San Bernardino County as well as in what are generally industrial settings in the county’s urban areas. In both the San Bernardino Mountain and the San Gabriel Mountain ranges flourish outdoor operations of varying sizes. Meanwhile, inside warehouses or what pass for warehouses in the county’s larger cities, cultivation is ongoing.
Again and again in the cases of the operations going undeterred by the law enforcement effort, sophistication is the watchword. The farms in the mountains are in located in out-of-the way, remote areas, made difficult to access by natural geographic features and visually obscured by verdant mountain vegetation. In some rare cases, marijuana farms of near plantation scale exist, which has prompted some to remark that it is hard to believe they are not being operated without protection by the sheriff’s department.
Those operations sustaining themselves and their perpetrators below the radar of law enforcement are as often as not controlled by either those who for years, indeed decades, were able to grow marijuana when cultivation of the drug was an out and out felony and were yet able to avoid detection or members of the succeeding generation who were mentored by them.
Of note is that a large number of those individuals rolled up in Operation Hammer Strike were foreigners, most notably immigrants from Mexico and China, in a majority of cases, the Sentinel is told, ones who did not or only barely spoke English. Many of these individuals were working for a relative handful of crime network leaders or kingpins, ones who would set up the operations but not be involved in the actual day-to-day cultivation of the plants, who therefore eluded being arrested themselves.
Occasional takedowns of cultivation operations in the county’s urban areas occur, generally in residential areas where a home has been converted to an indoor nursery. In such circumstances, hundreds or even upwards of 1,000 plants have been discovered, growing under intense artificial light, generally in what are four-month planting-to-harvesting cycles. Oftentimes, the operations are given away by excessive electricity use.
Indoor farms often using hydroponics in industrial buildings located within industrial zones are far harder to detect. In such a setting, heavy electrical use will appear to me more in keeping with ostensible industrial operations taking place on the property and consistent with neighboring industrial uses. To further avoid ending up on a watch list of suspicious activities or possible cannabis production, operators can augment the building in question with solar panels that will provide some, though not all of the electricity needed for powering lights. In addition, gasoline or diesel-powered electrical generators can be used during daytime without arousing suspicion in an industrial zone, further reducing dependence upon the local electrical utility provider, eliminating a telltale indicator that could result in, for the operator, unwanted scrutiny.
Thus, just as the race in life generally goes to the swiftest, it should not be surprising that the competition to grow marijuana at a profit without being subjected to the taxing and permitting regimes that have accompanied legalization of the substance favors the more sophisticated.
Not only does that appear to be the case with those making their way in the world by growing marijuana illicitly or, as it were, without a license or permit, it is equally applicable to those who have scratched their way to the top of the heap as licensed or permitted growers or sellers of the drug. In the three cities in the county where both marijuana cultivation and retail sales have now been established as a significant line item in the tax revenue for those entities – Needles, Adelanto and San Bernardino – the initial phase of the changeover to allowing for cannabis commercialization called for, at least initially, an application process and some form of competition among those applicants for what was supposed to be or still is a limited number of permits. In very short order, questions arose about the fairness and integrity of those application and competitive processes. Indeed, almost immediately there were widespread suspicions, particularly in Adelanto and San Bernardino, that the application process had been compromised and corrupted by the readiness of applicants to offer and the willingness of municipal officials to accept, money in exchange for allowing one applicant or another to cut in line in front of other applicants or for the expediting or simply the outright granting of a permit. In the case of Adelanto, that something untoward was going on was evident by the number of applicants filing into City Hall with briefcases containing cash or applicants handing Mayor Kerr’s wife cash-stuffed envelopes during city council meetings. That graft was a reality in Adelanto was confirmed by the FBI’s arrests of, the U.S. Attorney’s prosecution of and the eventual convictions of Councilman Jermaine Wright and Mayor Rich Kerr on bribery charges stemming from the commercial marijuana permitting process in their city.
In San Bernardino, those suspicions would be buttressed by the several applicants for marijuana-related and cannabis-related business permits who came forward to regale the public, city staff and other members of the city council about how Mayor John Valdivia had not only solicited money from them but received it in return for his assurance that their applications would be processed and the permits granted. At least one applicant signed a sworn affidavit to that effect. That applicant and others made public statements at videotaped city council meetings, ones in which the police chief, acting police chief, assistant police chief and other police officers were in attendance.
Neither the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which serves as the police department for the City of Adelanto, nor the San Bernardino Police Department evinced any interest in pursuing the evidence that some Adelanto and San Bernardino city municipal officials were on the take in the midst of the frenzy in both cities to blend commercial marijuana activity into the economies of their cities. In the face of evidence that former San Bernardino County Supervisor/Assessor turned lobbyist Bill Postmus is greasing the way for would-be, or has already done so for existing, marijuana and cannabis entrepreneurs in their efforts to set up operations in Needles, Adelanto, Hesperia, San Bernardino, Fontana and now, reportedly, Barstow, the county’s law enforcement agencies appear completely disinterested in examining his activity for criminal intent or actuality. Rather, the prevailing attitude among those charged with enforcing the law appears to be that those former drug outlaws who are now working within the confines of the new ethos of marijuana liberalization are free to do so, using means of inducement to get their permits and licenses, as long as they are taking care of someone in the political establishment.
In the spring of 2021, just a few months after then-Sheriff John McMahon launched the effort now known as Operation Hammer Strike, he and his department came in for criticism because of the perception that his department’s concentration on closing down “illicit” marijuana growing operations in the desert was being done with the intent of reducing the availability of marijuana in San Bernardino County and Southern California generally, such that the cost of marijuana, subject to the law of supply and demand, would escalate. This would give, those assessing McMahon’s action and questioning his motivation said, the established licensed and permitted marijuana entrepreneurs in the county, who in reality had multiple alternate sources for the marijuana they were retailing, a pretext for raising their prices, thereby increasing their profits and enabling them to make even larger payoffs to the politicians they had already paid off to get their permits and thereby lock in their already-extant near monopolies.
On June 8, 2021, McMahon came before the Apple Valley Town Council where he presented a briefing on his department’s marijuana eradication efforts. Without dwelling on retail operations, the sheriff said there was concern about how the unlicensed and unpermitted growers were cutting into the profits of the operators who had obtained clearance to cultivate marijuana on an industrial scale.
The growers his deputies were arresting and whose farms they were shuttering and whose plants they were uprooting were, McMahon said, “in direct conflict and competition with the legal growers that are paying taxes and paying fees to the city to operate. It is obviously impacting their business.”
While there was praise for the department’s efforts, there was equally virulent criticism that McMahon, through his department, was benefiting both the growers and sellers who had obtained their licenses by bribing city officials to obtain those permits and that he was enabling politicians such as Wright, Woodard and Kerr and the politicians in Adelanto who had succeeded them and were now perpetuating the pay-to-play atmosphere there as well, not to mention Valdivia and the politicians who were linked up with Postmus in creating a marijuana cartel that was functioning from within the government as opposed to the drug cartels of yesteryear which were at odds with the government.
Two weeks later, McMahon announced he would step down as sheriff. He anointed his undersheriff, Shannon Dicus, as his successor. Dicus, with the support of the $4 million in added funding for the marijuana eradication effort in the 2021-22 budget, moved into the sheriff’s position on July 16, 2021 and committed to the continuation of McMahon’s effort eradicating the illicit marijuana cultivation activity in the county under the label Operation Hammer Strike. The three prime movers in moving the $4 million into the county’s code enforcement fund to allow for the intensification of what became Operation Strike – Fourth District Supervisor and Chairman Curt Hagman, Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe and First District Supervisor Paul Cook – had been the guests of honor and the beneficiaries of a fundraising event at The Tartan in Redlands sponsored by Postmus on April 1, 2021.
An illustration of the paradox or absurd reality of the situation – what some might otherwise term the collective schizophrenia that has been brought on by the marijuanification of San Bernardino County – consists of the recent drop in the price of marijuana that has followed the intense marijuana eradication effort known as Operation Hammer Strike.
Despite the breathtaking success of the department stamping out marijuana being grown out in the open in the desert’s vast expanses, the wholesale price in marijuana has plunged in recent weeks and months.
In January 2021, when McMahon began the department’s push to shut down as many illicit marijuana growing operations as the department could identify, cultivators were selling a pound of marijuana for $1,700. In recent weeks, despite the sheriff’s departments Herculean effort at reducing the supply, the wholesale price that cultivators are getting for a pound has dropped to $700.
By Mark Gutglueck