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Publisher’s Notebook:

I was on yet another road trip a couple of weeks back. Went through central Oregon on a beautiful fall weekend when the colors were resplendent and near their peak. We took the Cave Junction cutoff, which takes you right to the redwood forests of the Northern California coast. Stopped on the Smith River late at night and were reminded what the Milky Way really looks like when you have a clear sky. WOW, I bet there is a lot of life up there in those star clusters! I heard that is what Congressman Kucinich was asked and then ridiculed about. Do people forget ex-Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan also professed to seeing UFO’s? Last fall, while staying with friends in Mendocino, FOUR of us saw something in the sky that was certainly not normal. We could not identify it and cannot say clearly we saw aliens from outer space, but we all agree the lights we saw in the night sky were not something we knew any technology could replicate. And yes, we were sober. Kind of rude actually, laying the most progressive member of the Democratic field away with a bogus question like that, instead of allowing him an opportunity to say something of real interest.

Back to the road, we camped on the Smith River and headed toward Crescent City, but when we stopped for gas a local coffee merchant told us to go back up the road a couple of miles, cross the river at the “old bridge” (gulp), and head down the “old road” so as to see a redwood grove most travelers miss. Boy, was this fellow ever right. We took the road, which eventually turned into a one-lane road that turned into a slightly paved road that eventually turned into a dirt road that ran along the South Fork of the Smith in the middle of something called “The Stout Grove.” I mention this because I know there are some upstanding residents of this community who like to camp up in that area, and I want to make sure they get note of this treasure. What a jewel, and what a reminder of what we have lost, since 98 percent of our ancient redwoods have been cut.

On our way south we stopped near Garberville (Redway) to join a gathering of North Coast civil libertarians for their annual meeting, and with it some outstanding speakers, including the keynote address by one of the Mirror’s own distinguished columnists, former U.S. Congressman Dan Hamburg.

Preceding Hamburg was Dr. Dale Gieringer, a representative from NORML, who filled us in on the DEA’s attempt to circumvent the medical marijuana laws of the State of California. The same stunts they pulled here in Southern California by notifying landlords and pressuring them to get rid of farmacy tenants is used in Northern California as well. Only there, the establishment of clubs has been far more established and widespread. One farmacy in Alameda County employed over 100 people and paid over $1 million in sales taxes. The Alameda County sheriff, an opponent of medical marijuana but someone with integrity who is still in support of upholding the law of his county, was distressed when the DEA did an end run around his promises to businesses and the community.

Gieringer did not paint a pretty picture. The feds continue to pursue an unpopular policy in this state, with the likelihood of any change very doubtful as long as this current president is in charge. And lest we forget, even under Bill Clinton marijuana arrests continued to climb. The drug was never reduced from schedule 1, and was still on the same level as heroin or cocaine.

The Democratic candidates, other then Dennis Kucinich, are mostly unwilling to end the marijuana prohibition. Consider these facts. Police in the U.S. arrested a record 829,625 persons for marijuana violations in 2006. Compare this number with 1990’s 326,850. According to the FBI, marijuana arrests now comprise nearly 44 percent of all drug arrests in the United States. “These numbers belie the myth that police do not target and arrest minor marijuana offenders,” said NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre, who noted that at current rates, a marijuana smoker is arrested every 38 seconds in America. “This effort is a tremendous waste of criminal justice resources that diverts law enforcement personnel away from focusing on serious and violent crime, including the war on terrorism.”

Of those charged with marijuana violations in America in 2006, approximately 89 percent – 738,915 – were charged with possession only. The remaining 90,710 individuals were charged with “sale/manufacture,” a category that includes all cultivation offenses, even those where the marijuana was being grown for personal or medical use.

To me, this is a huge waste of time and effort. The cost to all of us for extra police, jails, and judges is a black hole as we go on a course to arrest millions more. I sure hope this is not an unconscious “make-work project” for our criminal-industrial complexes. I am incredulous that we are still even contesting this issue after all the votes in favor of decriminalizing.

The final speaker of the night, Dan Hamburg, painted a rather bleak picture of the state of our nation, and even much of the world. I won’t bore you with the details because you can find them for yourself 24 hours a day online, on TV, in print, or just about anywhere you look.

After a 20-minute tirade of bad news, depression was starting to set in, and that is when Hamburg turned the corner. He said our hope, our best hope, was not going to be counting on Washington (you should have heard HIS congressman horror stories), but by counting on our local communities. That is where the real action lies and that is where real people are getting real results. Hamburg spent the rest of his time congratulating all those in the audience for the amazing projects they are working on to help improve their local communities. He mentioned how the results – due to local energy and skill – were beginning to show.

That is the message I want to bring to Santa Monica. Hope begins at home. Let’s work to help create a wonderful, caring, hospitable, sustainable, ecologically friendly hometown. Be the change you want to see in the world.

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