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Mendocino lawman's pot comments draw ire, support

  • An aerial view of a marijuana field. (JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat, 1997)

The man leading the major crimes task force in Mendocino County says half of the county's residents are involved in some aspect of the thriving marijuana industry, drawing the ire of some and agreement from others.

Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force Commander Rich Russell estimates that half of Mendocino County's 87,400 residents are engaged in growing, distributing and preparing pot for market.

“It is a disservice to the many thousands of law-abiding people in the county to make such unsubstantiated claims,” said Mendocino County Supervisor John McCowen.

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said the estimate is inflated.

“I don't agree with that,” he said. Allman declined to offer a counter estimate, saying those kinds of guesses damage law enforcement's credibility.

Ukiah defense attorney Bob Boyd, whose cases primarily involve marijuana, agrees with Allman.

“I don't think there's any basis for what he's saying,” he said. “It seems he has a very jaded view of the community he serves.”

Russell stands by his estimate and said the percentage of people involved with marijuana production in Sonoma and Lake counties is probably close behind Mendocino County's. He expects that Humboldt County's would be higher. Russell's estimate includes seasonal workers who trim pot plants and hydroponic businesses that sell cultivation materials.

“It's big everywhere in Northern California,” he said.

Lake County Sheriff Frank Rivero said nowhere near half of Lake County's population is involved in marijuana production.

“I would say it's a small percentage. I would say less than 10 percent,” he said.

Sonoma County Sheriff's narcotics task force Detective Sgt. Steve Gossett said he has “no idea” how many people in Sonoma County are involved in marijuana production and sales.

“I don't know how you would begin to estimate,” he said.

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