With Sacramento reconsidering California’s laws around hallucinogens, a recent arrest and criminal case indicate that Mendocino County’s criminal justice system remains ready and willing to enforce the prohibition on psychedelics.
51-year-old Fort Bragg woman Heather Baird currently faces multiple felony charges for her alleged possession and distribution of multiple hallucinogens. She also faces misdemeanor child cruelty for “willfully caus[ing] or permit[ing] [a] child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health may be endangered.”
We will publish a follow-up piece to this initial article providing the totality of Baird’s version of events. When we reached out to her for comment, she was adamant her account be made public to address what she characterized as lies told by law enforcement.
The cultural conversation around psychedelics has radically shifted in the last decade with scientific research touting the therapeutic benefits of hallucinogens. Micro-dosing has become an underground brain hack practiced across industries.
Demonstrating that politics is often downstream from culture, the public’s exploration of psychedelics has paved the way for lawmakers to follow suit. Oregon decriminalized mushrooms in 2020. In 2022, Colorado voters approved a ballot initiative decriminalizing the possession, production, and distribution of psilocybin, psilocybin, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine, and mescaline for residents 21 years old and older. These votes also approved “healing centers” where psychedelics can be purchased, consumed, and experienced under supervision.
Despite California’s reputation for being ahead of the curve, the state has yet to pass any legislation decriminalizing psychedelics. Cities such as San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and Arcata have passed a variety of measures designed to deprioritize enforcing psychedelic prohibitions and decriminalizing possession.
As of March 2023, California legislators are in the early stages of Senate Bill 58 introduced by San Francisco Senator Scott Weiner to decriminalize the possession and personal use of specific psychedelics. This bill is sponsored by the Heroic Hearts Project, an organization that connects veterans with psychedelic therapy for addressing their trauma. If passed, Californians could possess, prepare, transport, and use specified amounts of psilocybin, psilocyn, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine, and mescaline.
Court documents show that Baird was the center of an investigation conducted by the Mendocino County Major Crimes Task Force. Investigators claim Baird sold “several varieties of controlled substances” via a website “available for shipment upon payment.”
On February 20, 2023, Baird allegedly “sold LSD and psilocybin-infused edibles to an undercover officer.”
Two days later, investigators raided two locations associated with her finding “commercial quantities of LSD, psilocybin, marijuana, marijuana concentrate, and other controlled substances.”
Baird insists “commercial quantities” is fiction. She told us cops found a minimal cannabis garden, less than a pound of mushrooms, and a random assortment of capsules and chocolates.
As a result of the investigation, Baird’s 12-year-old boy was taken into Child Protective Services custody where he remains to this day. After the raid on her home, Baird was arrested and booked into the Mendocino County jail on February 22, 2023.
On February 24, 2023, Mendocino County Deputy District Attorney Eloise Kelsey submitted what is known as a “bail source review” order asking the court to verify the money Baird would use to “obtain bond [was] not a product of illegal activity.”
An investigator with the task force offered three pieces of information that indicated Baird could very well use money from her alleged drug sales to post bail. The investigator wrote that despite being unemployed, Baird paid $5,000 per month to rent two properties and she drives a new 2022 Toyota Tacoma. These financial obligations suggested to the investigator that “Baird is living well above her financial means” requiring some sort of illegal supplementation of her income.
Baird said this investigator’s claim is wrong. She is employed and pays taxes, she rents an apartment for $2,000 and collects rent from tenants on her farm. Regarding the truck, she sold a previous vehicle to purchase her new truck which she makes monthly payments on.
Baird also allegedly told a task force agent “she would be willing to pay millions to bail out of jail”, a statement that once again implied access to large sums of cash.
Baird said her comment about millions of dollars to the investigator was a reference “to getting my son who I would go to the ends of the earth for.”
Commenting on the officer’s asserted belief in her wealth, she said, “It would be clear to any intelligent human that I didn’t have millions since I’m living in a garage apartment.”
Three days later she was in the courtroom of Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Clay Brennan represented by Deputy Public Defender Frank McGowan. Appearing on a video from the Mendocino County jail, Baird pled not guilty. She told us she spent five days in solitary confinement and was finally released without bail.
She is now required to submit to search and seizure of her property (including electronics) at any time, prohibited from possessing narcotics and cannabis, and must submit to a drug test when requested.
Baird stands accused of possessing commercial quantities of Schedule I narcotics and selling them online.
Consider the broader context as the Major Crimes Task Force cracked the case: Mendocino County is the Golden State’s leader in opioid-related overdose. The latest data from California’s Overdose Surveillance Dashboard indicate 54.7 Mendocino County residents of every 100,000 will die from opioids. Fentanyl busts are a regular occurrence and the county’s law enforcement leaders have condemned the drug and the black market that provides it.
Last May, Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster took to Facebook to publish a press release regarding his office’s conviction of two fentanyl traffickers. The press release hammered home the lethality of the synthetic opioid and the threat it represented to the public. He wrote, “those who get caught trafficking fentanyl for sale in and through Mendocino County should not expect leniency when – not if — convicted.” He criticized Sacramento for adopting sentencing guidelines that would reduce drug traffickers’ prison sentences by as much as 66.6%.
Less than a year after DA Eyster condemned the scourge of fentanyl, his office is taking a Fort Bragg woman to court for a drug that could very well be decriminalized during California’s 2023’s legislative session.
Heather Baird is known on the coast for her work with the Mendocino Coast Children’s Fund supporting local children for seven years. She ran a non-profit under their umbrella and “a free thrift store for a year during the pandemic.” Baird received a Mayoral Commendation from Fort Bragg Mayor Lindy Peters in 2017 for volunteering to work in Paradise, California after the tragic fire. Neighbors recall her efforts to gather raincoats, winter coats, boots, and sleeping bags for the needy.
In the aftermath of her arrest, she was evicted from her home, her assets were frozen, and her 12-year-old son was taken into the custody of social services where he remains.
Bairds supporters are mounting a letter-writing campaign to the District Attorney’s office demanding the charges be dropped citing her work in the community, fentanyl’s clear and present danger, and the decriminalization of psychedelics. On April 6, 2023, multiple local bands are playing a benefit concert to raise funds for Baird to assist in her legal defense.
Baird will return to court this Monday, March 13, 2023, to set a date for the preliminary hearing. These pre-meetings provide an opportunity for prosecutors and defense attorneys to negotiate, and possibly propose a plea bargain that could resolve the case.
She is determined to tell her side of the story and get her son out of the foster home Child Protective Services placed him in. “The pain and suffering that they are placing on him is cruel and unnecessary.”
Mendocino County’s Probation Department is conducting a pre-trial risk assessment examining whether Baird’s history, age, and alleged criminal conduct make her a suitable candidate for probation.
From this case, the Mendocino County public knows one thing for sure: whether it’s fentanyl or shrooms, when DA Eyster warned those selling illegal substances to not expect leniency, he must have meant it even if those substances might soon be legal.