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Richard Valdemar

Richard Valdemar

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.
Gangs

Medical Marijuana: California's Biggest Losers

Mexican cartels and political interests both profit from the medical marijuana business.

October 27, 2011  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

This is a true tale, but the names have been changed to protect the identity of the criminal informants and the law enforcement officers who must try to keep the rule of law in a state, whose government has gone crazy.

Winnie was an exceptional expert in his field. He grew up in California's Central Valley, which was once known as "America's Bread Basket." As the son of two 1960s hippies, the marijuana plant was always significant in his life. His parents had run a small marijuana farm for as long as he could remember.

He was strongly influenced by his mother who was involved in homeopathic healing and natural remedies. She was a respected herbalist sought out for her knowledge and healing gifts. His father was the bread winner who profited mostly from his skill in growing clandestine marijuana crops.

These people were real flower children, and it's difficult to think of them as threatening or dangerous. Winnie grew in stature and knowledge to follow in the path of his parents. As a young man, Winnie played soccer with the Latino farm workers including a boy from Nayarit, Mexico called "El Toro" (The Bull). As the friends grew up both boys became involved in the marijuana farming business, starting first in small grows and graduating to larger, and larger farms.

Winnie would study magazines such as "Head" and "High Times" to learn the best plants to cultivate. Sending for good Afghan seeds from Holland, he would start the plants indoors in 2-½-gallon plastic pots. He was a natural nurturer providing the perfect amount of sun, water, and other nutrients. His green thumb and knowledge of the marijuana plants produced increasily potent plants that exceeded each prior year's THC content. Sometimes El Toro or other Mexican friends worked with him.

After seven to nine weeks, the pot plants were ready to be transferred outdoors to 250-gallon sack pots. They eventually built industrial-sized grows yielding tons of marijuana product more potent than anything his parents had ever seen. One of his famous hybrid plants topped 40 percent THC content.

As marijuana became more accepted by the California public, his work was perceived as nearly legal. Winnie knew many local prominent citizens and even police officers who used his product. Even those who didn't use pot themselves looked at the private use of marijuana as unimportant. It was the hard drugs and pushers they despised.

The influence of the pot industry was powerful and reached all the way to Sacramento. When California passed its medical marijuana law, Winnie found a market he could really excel in. He truly believed in the healing properties of his product and distained alcoholics and hard drug abusers.

One day, his old friend Toro approached him about making some real money. Toro suggested that Winnie work for Toro's old friend from Nayarit known as "El Gallo" (The Rooster). Gallo promised a larger percentage of the profits of the hybrid marijuana harvest to Winnie and offered to cover start-up costs. His pal Toro would also be on the payroll.

Winnie was persuaded, and he talked a farmer friend in Sonoma County into renting his farm to Gallo. Many immigrant farm workers were also hired with promises of fair treatment and higher wages. Most of them were here illegally and in the past were often cheated out of their pay by "legitimate" farming corporations. So the huge marijuana farm operation was started in the rich fields of Sonoma County.

Winnie soon found that everyone feared the Bantam Rooster, Gallo, even Winnie's old friend Toro. Gallo was the farm's overseer for a powerful Mexican cartel. The group got its start smuggling marijuana into the U.S. in the drug haze days of the '60s and '70s. In Mexico, they were currently involved in a violent and bloody war with rival cartels over the control of the smuggling routes into the United States. By establishing their industrial size farms here, they avoided the border drug wars and any Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) interference.

Gallo's ruthlessness first became apparent when the farmer Winnie had recruited told him he had not been paid any of the promised rent for several months. Gallo knew the farmer had little legal recourse. What could he do, call the police?

He also noticed that the farm laborers were even more unfairly treated by their Mexican overseers than their former white ones. They were more like slaves than employees. Winnie himself had not been paid in almost two years. Gallo would dole out only a few dollars every so often, just to keep the workers from starving. He held them there with the promise to pay them when the crop sold and with threats of violence to anyone perceived to be disloyal.

On a day when Winnie had to leave the farm for a few fours, someone stole 20 large marijuana plants. He discovered the loss when he returned. He knew only his own workers could have done this. He strongly suspected his old friend Toro who was also at the end of his rope and desperate for cash.

When Gallo returned, his old friend Toro told Gallo that Winnie "the white boy" had taken the 20 plants. Gallo threatened to kill Winnie, as well as his mother and father, if the plants were not returned. These were not the type of people Winnie was used to dealing with. He had heard about the violence common to Mexican cartels, as well as the violence perpetrated on anyone who stole from them.

That night, fearing for his own life and the lives of his family, and angry about not being paid and his ultimate betrayal by Toro, he ran. He left, but not empty handed. He took what he felt he was owed and what he was accused of stealing, he took 20 plants.

He had relatives living in the Northwest, so he made the run for the border in a large motor home. However Winnie's luck had run out, just before he crossed the Northern California line he was stopped by the police.

The 20 plants weighed in at over 100 pounds of unprocessed marijuana. Winnie was through. He was a dead man now, in or out of jail. He knew the Mexican cartel would find him and blame him for the loss of all 40 plants. And what about his family? He tried to talk to the local cops but they seemed content with their 100-pound seizure.

Back in the 1920s during prohibition, I'm sure that some well-meaning scientists and doctors advocated for and suggested medicinal uses for alcohol. I'm sure some prescriptions for beer and wine were written. Another argument for the end of prohibition was that it would stop gang violence in the national war to control the illegal sale of booze. But the end of prohibition did not end alcohol abuse and addiction, or end organized crime gangs and their violence. Legalizing pot will do no better.

Please check out the California Narcotics Officers Association (CNOA) papers on medical marijuana and the legalization of marijuana. There's no benefit found in smoking marijuana that can't be more safely achieved with other prescription medications. How can we teach our children that smoking tobacco is bad for everyone, but smoking marijuana is good?

Wake up California; you've been sold a lie. This lie has allowed the Mexican (and other) cartels and gangs to produce huge crops of unregulated marijuana here in our state. These fields produce hybrid dope high in THC content and high in illicit profit. For this, some men are willing to kill.

The huge profits corrupt the souls of men in high places and produce the best government that money can buy. Today, the number one industry in California is illegal drugs and number two is the natural consequence of the first—the prison system.

The Mexican cartels grow rich; the politicians grow fat; and American criminal gangs profit. The old hippie growers are losing out to the industrial cartel farms, but the biggest losers are the honest California citizens.

Related:

Illinois Chiefs Call for Defeat of Medical Marijuana Bill

Mexican Drug Cartels Flush With Proceeds From Medical Marijuana States

Legalizing Marijuana: Chronic Confusion

Tags: Medical Marijuana, Legalizing Drugs, Mexican Drug Cartels


Comments (15)

Displaying 1 - 15 of 15

Frank @ 11/2/2011 4:09 AM

Great article! That's what's wrong with this country. Everyone including Law Enforcement turn a blind eye to this behavior from The Cartels and we the people get the short end. If the Justice system can't handle the problems then cal in the US MIlitary. This has been going on for years. We Americans put up with all the Illegal nonsense and the news media, ACLU makes it look like we are racists. Throw these people out! I'll pay the extra nickel for fresh pick fruits.

reg_law @ 11/2/2011 8:43 AM

Seems to me the lesson here is don't be a sucker like Winnie. When you have a good thing going, don't get greedy, and when you are in over your head, don't swim for deeper water.

As for the history lesson, if Mr. Valdemar had done a little research he would not have to speculate. During Prohibition exceptions regarding the sale of alcohol were made for medical and religious purposes, and the huge sales that resulted could not be entirely (or even mainly) attributed to either. However, he is wrong regarding the lesson of Prohibition. The point is not that alcohol abuse did not go down after the repeal of the 18th Amendment; it did not go down much during it. In fact, it became fashionable to scoff at the law during that period, and in a climate where the public found one of the main focuses of law enforcement worthy of contempt, respect for law enforcement in general declined. Gangsters became popular heros, or at least gathered wealth and noteriety that they never would have had without the illegal alcohol trade made profitable by Prohibition.

If one needs proof that repeal of Prohibition lessened gang violence, just look at the numbers of police officers killed during the years 1919 and 1933. Then look at how those numbers dropped after the passage of the 21st Amendment. And the reason that organized crime didn't go away is easily explained: once they were in business, they wanted to stay in business, so they turned to drugs and prostitution. Like any profit-motivated operation, they turned to other lucative markets when one dried up.

Whatever one may say about California's implementation of partial legilization of marijuana (and the partial is probably a big part of the problem), the issues cited here are not of California's making. The cartels operate in Mexico and now in the southwest U.S. because smuggling of illegal marijuana is hugely profitable. U.S. citizens create a demand, and they fill it.

(to be continued)

reg_law @ 11/2/2011 8:45 AM

The question needs to be, why make the sale of something that is clearly in high demand? It didn’t work then and it will never work now. Save the effort for something more worthy of the sacrifice. In study after study, marijuana has been shown to be no more, and in some studies less, injurious to health than alcohol. In any reasonable cost/benefit analysis, prohibition of marijuana is a loser. (Well, not entirely. Many departments profit considerably from the drug trade in the form of asset forfeiture funds.) Based on the actual outcome of the repeal of Prohibition, we could expect legalization of marijuana to create a modest increase in consumption, which would then decline to near current levels once the novelty wore off. We could expect smaller populations in jails (and the resultant cost savings), a safer product due to regulation of quality and potency, legal employment increases, tax revenues from the sales and manufacture of the commercial product, and a blow to the cartels in Mexico and the distribution network here. El Gallo would have no interest in Sonoma County farmland if marijuana was legalized, unless of course he wanted to start a legal company.

Meanwhile, law enforcement could turn more of its attention to things that really matter, instead of penny-ante marijuana possession arrests and unwinnable wars against the marijuana trade.

Just my two-cents worth. And no, I don’t smoke marijuana; never have. Don’t drink much either.

reg_law @ 11/2/2011 8:47 AM

First sentence in the second post should read:

...why make ILLEGAL the sale of something that is clearly in high demand?

Rick @ 11/2/2011 8:50 AM

I live in CA and told people not to vote for that law! The person who wrote the law is a self admitted gay activist and drug legalization activist from San Francisco. He admitted in an interview after the law passed, that this was the first step in legalizing all drugs. As far as smoking dope to relieve pain and other chronic symptoms; nebulizer treatments are available that have a measured dose of THC, so there's no guessing and the THC is free of the pesticides, herbicides and lead dust that is used on medical marijuana.

TimFromLA @ 11/2/2011 11:23 AM

From a conservative website written by a liberal

Drug Decriminalization in Portugal:
Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies
http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=10080

Read it

Rob @ 11/2/2011 5:52 PM

There are lots of Winnies out there, and I've dealt more that a fair share of them. I cannot accept the assumption that legalizing weed will have the same effects as repeal of prohibition. Probibition was repealed in the 1930s, but bootlegging continues because there's always someone who doesn't want to pay taxes on booze. White lightning gave us NASCAR, Smokey and the Bandit, and the Dukes of Hazzard. I can't see anything of the current drug culture that I would want to emulate. I suppose that any old revenue agent a couple of generations or more removed from me would have the same views looking back on his own experiences. If you look at how adaptable just the Mexican drug cartel have become, you'll realize that they will always find a way to stay in power and make money for as long as we allow them to exist. Thats already happening if you watch how they've branched into illegal alien smuggling, kidnapping, stealing oil from pipelines, etc., as well as other drug markets throughout the world. By the way, cocaine, meth, heroin, and anything else that people must have to get high will also have to get legalized because the cartels make billions on those drugs too. Put a tax on marijuana, make the reefers have filters, regulate the amount of lawful THC - then you'll still have a thriving market for bootleg weed. I don't have an easy answer for reducing illegal drug consumption in the U.S., but that is probably the only way we're going to eliminate the national security threat that illegal drugs pose to us. Look at it as a generational undertaking that involved education and a lot of "get tough" approaches to start out, coupled with serious enforcement of not just drug laws, but immigration as well. The military will have to play a key role also. H. John Poole wrote an interesting book entitled "Tequila

Rob @ 11/2/2011 5:56 PM

The book by H John Poole, is titled "Tequila Junction."

As usual, a most excellent article.

richard valdemar @ 11/3/2011 8:15 PM

reg-law, The murder rate is no measure of criminal activity or strength. And your opinion and predictions about what would happen if weed were legalized is pure speculation. How much experience do you have dealing with criminal organized gangs? I stand by my opinion, legalization will create more problems and not solve them.

reg_law @ 11/4/2011 12:53 PM

And I stand by my opinion, which is supported by not only the parallel history of alcohol prohibition in this country, but also the experience of countries that have tried at least decriminalization, like Portugal and the Netherlands. Check out the link offered by TimFromLA to the CATO Institute white paper on that experience. (The CATO Institute is so conservative it is libertarian.) Sgt. Valdemar, I honor your years of fighting gangs at great personal risk, but your expectations for legalization are not supported by the evidence we have.

As for murder rates as evidence of criminal activity, I point you to a primary indicator of cartel activity in Mexico today: the dramatic increase in drug-trade related murders. But that is not, in any case, exactly what I said. I referred to the number of officers killed in the line of duty, most of them in battling organized crime enpowered by the lucrative trade in illegal alcohol.

As for Rob's comment about bootleggers: point taken. But the bootleg trade after the repeal of Prohibition was nothing--nothing!--like the situation that existed during Prohibition. The fact is, many of those bootleggers continued to operate because states were allowed to maintain prohibition if they wished. And some were just die-hard anti-government entrepeneurs who resented regulation and taxes on what they had produced without restrictions for years. I'm sure we'll always see some of that, even with legalization. However, that activity is minimal in the alcohol trade today and likely will be in the drug trade, as well. See the experience in Europe...

Final point--speculation if you will--the cartels will only cease to be a threat when demand drops and the politics of Mexico changes. We can't effect the latter, and we haven't changed the former for all the expenditure on the war on drugs. What Rob says about other harder drugs is no doubt true, but that is an argument for another day.

reg_law @ 11/4/2011 12:58 PM

To clarify: I meant what Rob said about the need to legalize other drugs. Again, no doubt true, but as a captain I used to work for liked to say: baby steps...

surtranda @ 12/15/2011 1:51 PM

As a young single mother living in California. I raised my child with all my might to prevent him from joining a gang of any sort. We lived in a poor neighborhood, where in the day you would see drug dealers posted up in the streets and at night you would hear drive by shootings. I would always have a talk with my son that joining gangs is stupid and try to find a group of friends that are not involved in any illegal activity. thankfully today 10 years later he is doing well and now has a family of his own

William_DPD @ 12/15/2011 1:55 PM

Good for your good fortune. my son was once in a gang and we had to move because we feared for his life. he thanks us everyday for what we have done just for him

Kurt @ 12/19/2011 8:27 PM

If you have an illness then it's different but not for afterwork fun. I think the police should get to vote from what they see and how they would change laws. It might surprise many what the guys and gals in the field say bout that. I would keep it legal for medical patients only.

Freeman @ 2/23/2012 6:53 PM

Its important to separate soft drugs from hard drugs in society (look at Portugal) and if you think cannabis is a hard drug you need to do some open minded research. Marijuana is the cartels #1 money maker which makes them extremely powerful. Money= bribes, guns, influence, etc.. Legalize cannabis and now you cut the legs out from under the cartel. Al Capone now= Anheuser Busch (Budweiser) so legalizing cannabis could= similar legal entities. Advocate for responsible use and regulation of cannabis, stop black markets and crime, allow those who really need it access. I have severe chronic pain and would have never used cannabis if it wasn't for the pain. Having no control over your pain is a scary thing and those who need it should have the right to access it and those who don't need it shouldn't have the right to tell those that do need it they can't have it.

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