In The News: Gallegos talks pot, meth and PL

DA opines, gets feedback from McKinleyville Chamber - by KEITH EASTHOUSE/North Coast Journal Oct. 9, 2003

It wasn't an earthshaking meeting, just Humboldt County's DA out in the community keeping in touch with the people who elected him.

Or not.

The latter seemed most likely with this group, about 10 members of the McKinleyville Chamber of Commerce who spent an hour clustered around a table with Paul Gallegos at the Village Pantry restaurant on Central Avenue Monday afternoon. They were civil, even courteous, but the customary deference, even obsequiousness, normally accorded someone occupying Gallegos' powerful position was noticeably absent.

The elephant in the living room was the ongoing effort to force a recall election of Gallegos. Did the DA, as he talked with these folks and looked them in the eye, wonder how many of them want him ousted? Or has he compartmentalized things to such an extent that the issue never arose for him?

Regardless, he seemed his normal self: engaging, honest to a fault, combative when challenged. But still a little coltish, still a little unsure. Which would probably be the case even if there wasn't a recall movement afoot. Being elected DA is one thing; projecting the authority of the office takes time. Even Terry Farmer would admit that.

Marijuana was the first subject on the agenda; to be precise, the district attorney's new guidelines, which allow people who use pot for medical purposes to have up to three pounds. "Someone growing three pounds of pot is not a big problem compared to what we have in Humboldt County," Gallegos observed. "We have marijuana cultivation that's [on a scale of] thousands of pounds."

Gallegos said a long-term goal is greater uniformity in the medical pot guidelines that exist in California's counties. Right now, evidently, there's quite a bit of variation, although Gallegos said the guidelines in Humboldt, Del Norte and Sonoma are "identical."

Gallegos acknowledged that there has been resistance within the county to his guidelines. (He didn't specify from whom, but presumably he meant law enforcement.) "Some say their policy is still zero tolerance, but we are seeing some changes in some agencies, who say they are grateful for the clarity."

At this point, in what may have been the only time during the meeting when anyone directly praised the DA, one of the chamber members said they were "impressed" with the way Gallegos handled the medical marijuana issue.

The discussion turned next to meth. Artist Patricia Sennott wanted to know if Humboldt County was "making a dent" in tackling the drug problem. Gallegos didn't directly address the question, and instead talked about manpower limitations.

The testiest part of the meeting came when Ben Shepherd, who lost to Jill Geist in the 5th District supervisor's race last year, deftly used Gallegos' spiel about limited resources to challenge him about his fraud lawsuit against PL. "You said we have limited resources. Would putting one of our largest employers out of business help that?" Shepherd asked with an air of indignation.

Gallegos' initial response was, "I don't think we're going to put PL out of business." Then he added: "If as a result of their unlawful activities they are put in a position where they can't do business, that's a consequence they created themselves, not us."

A little later he asked, "Should I no longer prosecute marijuana cultivation because it may reduce jobs and money for this county?" To which Shepherd, clearly irritated, said, "I think you've carried that to an extreme far beyond my point."

The meeting soon broke up -- on a cordial note -- and everyone went his or her way. With, one suspects, their minds unchanged.