Sunday, September 24, 2017

TL;DR: Five Reasons NOT to Try This at Home

Posted By on Sun, Sep 24, 2017 at 10:52 AM

Busy week? We’ll help you catch up on the basics of this week's cover story, "Rio Dell's Hash Lab Murder Case," which takes a deep dive into hash lab explosion that rocked Rio Dell in November and spawned murder charges against all involved. You should really read the whole story here, but this will give you a quick primer on why butane hash oil extraction is inherently dangerous and how California's felony murder rule fits the alleged facts of this case.

1) It’s really dangerous: Butane hash oil extraction is an inherently volatile process. Used to make an ever expanding array of popular products — like oil, shatter, wax and honeycomb — the process uses butane gas to concentrate marijuana’s psychoactive properties to increase potency. It works like this: You take a long tube (usually plastic, metal or glass) filled with marijuana and push butane through it. The butane strips the THC from the plant matter, leaving behind a golden liquid. That liquid still contains butane, however, which must be evaporated off, usually in a two-step process involving hot water and a heating pad. But butane, once purged from its container, becomes a fugitive gas that’s heavier than air. In poorly ventilated spaces, the combustible gas will pool at the floor and build up until it escapes or hits an ignition source — anything from a pilot light to a spark of static electricity.

2) These labs don’t just burn, they explode: When the pooled gas hits the ignition source, there’s usually enough of it that an explosion results. In one such fire outside of Eureka last year, the blast was so strong that it lifted the roof off the walls and moved the structure off its foundation. In the case of the Rio Dell fire at the heart of this story, the blast was so strong it shook neighbors’ homes, rattling windows. And, if that weren’t bad enough, there’s also usually the hazard of stored butane in the lab, which, still in containers,  explodes when burned in the ensuing fire, causing subsequent blasts. This risk of subsequent blasts is so great that Humboldt Bay Fire has changed policy to prevent its firefighters from entering a burning lab unless they know someone is trapped inside.

3) You could be seriously hurt: This can’t be underscored enough. When these things blow up, they do damage and that includes to people. Initial reports from the scene in Rio Dell were that the three young men in the lab at the time of the explosion had burns covering 60 to 90 percent of their bodies. Neighbor Cindy Dobereiner said her husband and daughter ran over to help, finding one man whose “hair was burnt down into his head, his beard melted to his face.” They brought pitchers of water and a hose, and Dobereiner said her daughter tried douse one of the men to stop the burning. “She said, ‘Mom, I thought he had gloves on because when I poured water on him, the gloves just fell right off. But they weren’t gloves.’” In the Rio Dell case, Xavier Renner, a 21-year-old from San Diego, died due to secondary infections from the burns five weeks later in a U.C. Davis Medical Center burn unit.

4) You could destroy a neighborhood: Neighbors of the Rio Dell explosion say it turned the city into a war zone. A U.S. Army veteran who lives about a block away said the concussion from the initial blast was so strong it felt and sounded like someone had taken a battering ram to his door. Then, hundreds of subsequent pops and booms as butane cans blew in the fire sounded like gunfire. As they exploded, cans whizzed through the neighborhood or shot into the air, falling smoldering into neighbors’ yards and onto their roofs. Flames from the detached garage reached high into the air and neighbors say it was only a strong response from the Rio Dell Volunteer Fire Department that kept the fire from spreading to engulf neighboring structures and, possibly, the entire block. (Check out the video below.)

5) If someone dies, you can be charged with murder: Even after the explosion, the fire and the news weeks later that Renner had died, no one in Rio Dell seemed to expect the police to come knocking with murder warrants. But they did. All four people associated with the Rio Dell lab — Renner’s friends, Arron Mohr and Aaron Schisler, and the couple who rented them the garage, David and Tamara Paul — have been charged with Renner’s murder. While that may seem extreme to some, California law fits with the alleged facts under what’s called the felony murder rule. A legal doctrine, the felony murder rule holds that if Person A is knowingly committing a dangerous felony and Person B dies during the crime, Person A can be charged with Person B’s murder. In this case, prosecutors allege that Mohr and Schisler were engaged in manufacturing concentrated cannabis using a volatile solvent, a dangerous felony that caused Renner’s death. The Pauls, prosecutors allege, knew of the butane hash operation and thus were illegally allowing a place for the manufacturing of a controlled substance, causing Renner’s death. Some hope the prosecutions — which may be the first of their kind in California, as the Journal was unable to find any other reports of murder prosecutions stemming from hash lab explosions — will have a chilling effect in the industry, underscoring the high stakes of an inherently dangerous activity.

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Synapsis Studio's Future up in the Air

Posted By on Sat, Sep 23, 2017 at 4:05 PM

An aerialist performing at the soon-to-be-vacated Synapsis Studio. - COURTESY OF LESLIE CASTELLANO
  • Courtesy of Leslie Castellano
  • An aerialist performing at the soon-to-be-vacated Synapsis Studio.

A couple of weeks ago, Synapsis Performance Collective, a group of artists, dancers and performers that has been renting a space at 47 W. Third St. in Eureka for the past 13 years, learned that in six weeks, its rent would be doubling from $1,065 to $2,200 per month as of Oct. 1. It's a substantial hike but maybe not out of nowhere when you consider the original rent was established between 2004 and 2006. As the letter from Synapsis' landlord Gross Family LLC states, "now it's time for this property to yield market rate for the family." That's a market rate that's gone up of late, given that the property is located in "extraction alley," but whether it's a case of cannabis gentrification is unclear.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

House Says No to Sessions' Asset Forfeiture Plans

Posted By on Wed, Sep 13, 2017 at 4:19 PM

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. - GAGE SKIDMORE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
  • U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The House of Representatives has just said no to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ attempts to lessen restrictions on taking money and property from people suspected but sometimes never even charged let alone convicted of a crime — a practice called asset forfeiture.

Read the Journal’s previous coverage about the controversial legal procedure in the March cover story “The Trump Card” here.

According to reporting in the HuffPost and The Hill, bipartisan amendments attached to a government spending package — expected to be voted on later this week — would prohibit the Justice Department from using federal funds to relax limits put in place by the Obama administration.

The move takes aim at Sessions’ July order to unravel those controls, an action he described as being “especially for drug traffickers” in prepared remarks for a speech he gave that month before the National District Attorney Association.

Sessions has notoriously said that marijuana is “slightly less awful” than heroin and that "good people don't smoke marijuana."

“With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures,” Sessions’ remarks read. “No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime. Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners.”
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Monday, July 24, 2017

AG Revives Program to Seize Assets Without Charges or Convictions

Posted By on Mon, Jul 24, 2017 at 3:27 PM

Marijuana and more than $11,000 in cash found during a traffic stop were seized for asset forfeiture proceedings. - PHOTO COURTESY OF EUREKA POLICE DEPARTMENT.
  • Photo courtesy of Eureka Police Department.
  • Marijuana and more than $11,000 in cash found during a traffic stop were seized for asset forfeiture proceedings.
Advocates of civil asset forfeiture reform had a few choice names for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions — among them “drug warrior” and “forfeiture fanatic” — when interviewed for a Journal story “The Trump Card” back in March.

There were also predictions that forfeitures would skyrocket under the influence of the former Alabama senator and one-time state attorney general who famously said, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

Just last week, Sessions made the move to breathe new life into the controversial legal tool that allows the federal government to permanently seize money, property and possessions suspected of being obtained through criminal activity, even without a corresponding criminal charge, let alone a conviction.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Country Music Singer Tries to Mainstream Humboldt Cannabis

Posted By on Tue, Jun 27, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Continuing his now decades-long attempt to strum along to the zeitgeist of popular culture, country music singer Toby Keith recently released a song titled "Wacky Tobaccy," and, guess what? Yeah, it mentions Humboldt County.

"You got your Mexican and Jamaican with those buds of blue/
Humboldt County and Hydroponic too/
Okeechobee Purple from down in the South and/
that ol' stuff your uncle smokes 'ill give you cotton mouth," Keith drawls, releasing a mouthful of illustrated smoke.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sessions Fights to Fight Legal Weed

Posted By on Wed, Jun 14, 2017 at 10:59 AM

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. - GAGE SKIDMORE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
  • U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Lost in all the reports of his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee was news that last month U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked Congress to give him broad authority to crack down on medical marijuana cultivators and distributors acting in accordance with state laws.

On May 1, Sessions penned a letter to congressional leaders asking them to strike a provision in a spending bill that bars the Department of Justice from using its federal funding to prosecute people operating in compliance with state law. Known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, the check on Justice Department power has been a mainstay in congressional budget bills since first passed in 2014.

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions explained in the letter.

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Eureka Council Slated to Talk Wards, Budget, Recreational Pot

Posted By on Sun, Jun 4, 2017 at 8:29 AM

The current Eureka City Council. - COURTESY OF THE CITY OF EUREKA
  • Courtesy of the city of Eureka
  • The current Eureka City Council.
The Eureka City Council will take a first look at the 2017-2018 budget on Tuesday and examine possible customized approaches to the recent legalization of recreational marijuana rather than having the state’s default regulations apply inside city limits.

But before tacking those weighty items, the council will discuss ward redistricting during a 4:30 p.m. special meeting. Following the passage of Measure P in November, future councilmembers will be elected by the residents of individual wards rather than a citywide vote.

To make sure each of Eureka’s five wards has an even population, the city will now need to examine the boundaries — which were last redrawn some 40 years ago.

The Budget
A majority of the city’s $28.4 million general fund in the upcoming fiscal year — about half of the $57.7 million total operating budget — is proposed to go toward public safety, with the Eureka Police Department receiving $13.1 million and Humboldt Bay Fire $6.6 million.

According to City Manager Greg Sparks’ introduction to the 288-page document, the allocation “is consistent with the city council direction of keeping public safety as the number one budget priority.”

Parks and Recreation is slated to receive $3.9 million and Public Works is budgeted at $1.14 million.

Overall, the spending plan is a 2 percent increase over last year’s budget, which also saw a bit of a bump after several lean years that necessitated painful cuts to a number of departments. But the majority of that extra $1 million is slated to cover increases in “pension, health insurance and transit related costs,” Sparks wrote.

“While the recommended budget is balanced the city council and community must be mindful that there are a number of uncertainties still facing the community,” Sparks notes in his conclusion. “Costs continue to increase despite a ratcheting down of discretionary expenses and a leaner public work force. Nonetheless, we will continue to adhere to sound financial practices that will allow us in the long term to successfully meet the challenges of providing quality public services.”

Recreational Marijuana
According to a staff report by Community Development Director Rob Holmlund, the council has until January of 2018 to come up with customized regulations or the general state guidelines will go into effect in Eureka.

The report notes that setting up a city-specific ordinance will take some time, but states the item was delayed while staff waited for President Donald Trump to “clarify the national policy direction regarding state regulation medical cannabis and non-medical marijuana.”

Another factor, according to the staff report, was a lack of clarification from the governor or the state Legislature on how to remedy conflicts between medical and recreational pot regulations.

“Accordingly, staff needs direction from council this month in order to beat the timeline and have custom regulations in place by January of 2018,” Holmlund’s report states.

Staff recommendations for personal grow regulations on recreation marijuana generally coincide with existing ones for medical pot.

Proposed rules include a maximum of 50-square-feet of inside cultivation space per residence, a limit of six plants, a ban on outdoor grows and a requirement that no exterior evidence of a grow be visible from public areas.

On the commercial licensing side, staff is recommending that the council consider banning commercial cultivation and sales of non-medical adult use marijuana anywhere in the city.

Most other aspects of the commercial side, including manufacturing, testing transportation and distribution of recreational marijuana and related products would fall under the same regulations currently applied to its medical counterpart, including zoning restrictions.

Early Release of Council Agenda
Thanks to City Clerk Pam Powell’s efforts to make city business more transparent and accessible to the public, agendas and the accompanying background materials are now available for review days earlier, generally the Wednesday before regularly scheduled council meetings. Find the full agenda and access staff reports for Tuesday's meeting here.
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Sunday, March 19, 2017

TL;DR: The Cannabis Issue

Posted By on Sun, Mar 19, 2017 at 8:02 PM

  • Courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Busy week? We get it. Here are some highlights from this week's cover package to get you caught up.

Humboldt County's biggest industry is in flux as it moves from the shadows out into the light. This week, in the Journal's first ever issue dedicated almost entirely to the industry, we look at various aspects of the cannabis business, including efforts to regulate its bad actors, its impact on local cultures and communities, the micro-industry springing up to help growers get legit and how a rural plot of land with a cultivation permit attached to it has become akin to a winning lottery ticket.

Here are five quotes that combine to summarize our cover package and offer insight into the industry at a unique moment in its history.
A Budding Industry” explores the business of consultants, scientists and lawyers who are helping cannabis farmers get legal. As Henry’s comment indicates, it’s a growing industry, with new businesses cropping up all over to help the 2,300 growers who are looking to go legit work their way through the county’s permitting process, as well as those of the regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. But as one consultant warns, “there’s a lot of snake oil salesmen out there,” with some “consultants” simply looking to fleece growers.

40 Acres and a Permit” looks at how the prices of rural parcels with a cannabis cultivation permit pending with the count of Humboldt have skyrocketed. Take the 200-acre property in Kneeland with three permit applications. It appraised for $437,000 in 2013 and just sold for $4.64 million. Or there’s the ranch in Maple Creek with 4 acres of permits that sold eight months ago for $1.7 million but is now back on the market for $11.9 million. Meanwhile, the market for permitless parcels seems almost nonexistent, with one real estate agent telling the Journal that “it’s hard to even give them away.”

Culture Change” tells the story of two men in two towns at opposite ends of the county who share a similar vision. Rio Anderson and Mark Rowley love their towns, Garberville and Willow Creek, respectively. But both lament the impact the black market marijuana industry has had on the local culture. Both desperately want to see community replace secrecy and isolation and share their thoughts on how to get there.

The Carrot and the Stick” begins with a look at some hard numbers, followed by a question. By law enforcement estimates, there are about 10,000 marijuana farms in Humboldt County. About 2,300 of them have applied for the permits needed to legitimize. What’s being done to weed the other 7,700? It turns out, not much. As the story explains, regulator agencies are spread too thin to make much of a dent and no one is volunteering the resources to crack down on Humboldt County’s black market grows.

The Strain Name Game” pores through the 285 names and phrases that include the word “Humboldt” and have been federally trademarked — they range from the winky (Baked in Humboldt) to the direct (Humboldt Hash). The interesting thing is that none of these trademarks are actually for marijuana products. That’s because you can’t trademark something that’s against federal law, explains Cohn. Instead, all these trademarks are a way of priming the pump — people and companies making sure that if the federal prohibition is lifted they have a foot in the door with a name they can capitalize on.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Sessions: Marijuana Only 'Slightly Less Awful' than Heroin

Posted By on Fri, Mar 17, 2017 at 1:52 PM

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. - GAGE SKIDMORE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
  • U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions tossed some more shade on marijuana this week, adding to growing concerns that a federal crackdown is looming for the $7 billion industry.

Speaking about efforts to combat violent crime and “restore public safety” before a group of state and local law enforcement in Richmond, Virginia, Sessions spoke about the need to curb the nation’s growing heroin epidemic.

“So we need to focus on the third way we can fight drug use: preventing people from ever taking drugs in the first place,” Sessions said in the prepared speech. “I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana — so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Final Numbers for County Cannabis Applications Show Late Push

Posted By on Tue, Jan 3, 2017 at 5:35 PM

Three generations of growers, Rain on the Earth with her nephews Mark Switzer (far right) and grand-nephew Myles Moscato (center) pose with Wall as Moscato proudly holds the receipt for his application, the first submitted in the county. - LINDA STANSBERRY
  • Linda Stansberry
  • Three generations of growers, Rain on the Earth with her nephews Mark Switzer (far right) and grand-nephew Myles Moscato (center) pose with Wall as Moscato proudly holds the receipt for his application, the first submitted in the county.
Almost one-third of the total commercial cannabis permit applications filed with the County of Humboldt in 2016 were filed on deadline day, according to numbers from the cannabis services division of the Humboldt County Planning and Building Department. As of the Dec. 30 deadline, a total of 2,334 applications had been filed. Eight hundred and eighteen of those arrived after the Journal checked in with county planner Steve Lazar last Tuesday morning.

“Many are very incomplete,” said Lazar, adding that it could take “several years” to process all of the applications, which they hope to get ready for processing before the state’s new marijuana laws take effect in 2018.

“Some will go quicker than others,” he added. “Some are grossly incomplete, with people just trying to get it in before the deadline.”

Just prior to deadline, Lazar said county staff were busy but “hanging in there,” and that consultants were scrambling to help their clients get in before the deadline.

Megan Azevedo, an environmental planner with Green Road Consulting, said the firm’s staff had been “pretty darn busy” for the last three weeks.

“We’ve had a lot of last minute clients who want to get in the door,” said Azevedo in a phone interview today. “Two weeks ago we were swamped.”

Green Road helped about 200 clients fill out their application forms, complete “plot plans” of their cultivation areas and sign acknowledgement and indemnification agreements as well as navigate the county’s regulation guidelines.

Azevedo said many of the clients were surprised by the strict zoning regulations and the sudden increase in application fees, which hiked about a month ago.

She added that Green Road’s staff expected to be pretty busy over the next six months assisting with applications that had been turned in incomplete.

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