*In MendoFlashback, MendoFever will offer stories of Mendocino County’s past to keep our history alive.*
Mendocino County’s relationship with marijuana is well established being one of the globe’s top producers of cannabis. For decades, marijuana cultivators and local law enforcement have clashed and even today stakeholders are coming to grips with the legal cannabis industry and enforcement priorities.
In 1981, Mendocino County Sheriff Thomas Jondahl spearheaded a public awareness campaign distributing posters throughout Mendocino County emblazoned with the headline “Wanted Marijuana.” The posters ask residents, “If You See ‘Illegal Weed’ Growing This Summer, Call Your Local Law Enforcement Agency.” The poster concluded with a call to action: “Destroy Marijuana BEFORE It Destroys Our Children.”
In a November 4, 1981 article entitled “Sheriffs say it’s been ‘a good year’ for pot eradication program,” Ukiah Daily Journal staffer Dale Martin describes the success of Sheriff Jondahl’s eradication efforts during the 1981 season removing a total of 15,311 plants.
Compare this to the total number of plants eradicated by the Mendocino County Sheriffs this year: 184,348. Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall told us he total number of plants eradicated by MCSO during 2020 is approximately 280,637 and 54,499 pounds of processed marijuana had been confiscated. The initial number we found was from an infographic issued by MCSO on their Facebook page on August 27, 2020 which Sheriff Kendall said was only “halfway through growing season.”
Martin writes that at the close of that year’s harvest season, the sheriff’s department was “down to ‘stems and seeds’ in its sensimilla eradication effort for the year.”
Dale wrote that Sheriff Jondahl characterized that year’s eradication efforts as running smooth where “no one was hurt- growers or officers.”
Dale reported that the sheriff’s confiscated a total “30,807 pounds of marijuana and 252 pounds of dried and processed pot.” The sheriff told Dale the eradicated cannabis would be valued at over $3,807,000.
Dale’s article mentioned Mendocino County Sheriff Narcotics Officer Bill Stewart (who later lost his life in the line of duty while investigating drug trafficking in Oklahoma) on multiple occasions for his direction of the department’s cannabis eradication efforts. Under Stewart’s direction, Dale wrote that the deputies took in 15,311 cannabis plants, 456 opium poppies, and arrested 187 people.
Dale reported that Sheriff Jondahl said “it has been several years since any grower has been sent to prison” but assured, “most of those busted end up with a jail sentence and a ‘substantial fine’.”
Dale said Jondahl asserted the constitutionality of the department cannabis busts having “been upheld during appeals.” Jondahl told Dale that “most of the growers now simply enter a plea” but said, “he did not think the sentences are ‘enough deterrent’ to growers.”
Dale reported that narcotics office Bill Stewart was actually recruited by law enforcement from Muskogee, Oklahoma to “organize a sinsemilla eradication force.” Dale could not resist the opportunity to quote Merle Haggard’s famous counter-counter-culture song “Okie from Muskogee (“We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee”).
Dale asked Sheriff Jondahl whether the department was winning the war against marijuana. Jondahl told Dale, “I don’t know if we are fighting a war, but we’re doing what we can to keep it off the streets.”