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Cash Seizures on Highway 101 Mark the Arrival of Pot Harvest

Less than a month before California voters decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana, North Coast narcotics agents are busy intercepting money and pot along Highway 101 and other locations at the end of the busy outdoor growing season.

Cash buyers heading north to Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties — known as the Emerald Triangle — as well as those returning south with buds from the fall harvest are being stopped near Cloverdale by officers participating in interdiction efforts.

Recent busts include the seizure of more than $100,000 from a suspected trafficker from New York and $40,000 hidden under the carpet of a rental car driven by a man from Florida, said Sgt. Jacy Tatum of the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety.

“When the money was located, he did not know how it got there,” said Tatum, who leads a year-round team of officers patrolling the region 40 miles north of his city. Tatum said his biggest haul this season was 170 pounds of pot from a car bound for Los Angeles. The CHP also reported a 100-pound seizure this week. Outside the Highway 101 corridor, Clearlake police this week confiscated more than 1,300 pounds of pot from a U-Haul trailer, and Lake County deputies found 1,000 pounds at a farm in Lower Lake.

“We have seen spikes in violent crime related to marijuana during this time of year,” said Tim Celli, Clearlake’s acting police chief.

CHP Officer Jon Sloat said his agency has dispatched no special patrols to the Cloverdale area but K9 units “spend more time than usual” in the area at this time of year. He said officers look for vehicle code violations, such as speeding, to make traffic stops. “Every day is drug interdiction day,” Sloat said.

None of those arrested was acting on behalf of medical marijuana dispensaries or other legal outlets, Tatum said. The money is turned over to the state’s asset forfeiture agency. A percentage comes back to arresting agencies.

“It’s a lot of out-of-state people,” said Tatum. “There’s a big flood from the marijuana harvest going on right now.” If recreational marijuana is legalized Nov. 8, Tatum said he and other officers will look to state prosecutors and the district attorney for direction. Polling suggests about 60 percent of voters favor legalization.

Observers said interdiction efforts in the area, known locally as “the gauntlet,” appear to have waned with the coming election.

Santa Rosa defense attorney Joe Rogoway said officers continue to seize money and drugs without arrests or criminal charges. But he said the prospect of legalization seems to have sapped some of the urgency. “I think society has just moved on from it,” Rogoway said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.

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