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Agriculture Clash

Ken Norton and the SCCG

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Once you meet Ken Norton and his pals in the Sonoma County Cultivation Group, you won’t forget them. They’re a trip. SCCG brings together farmers eager to learn biodynamic practices and non-toxic pest control. Recently, Norton introduced me to Keith Alden, one of Sonoma County’s last cannabis growers who won’t bow down to regulations and enforcers.

Norton and Alden, both 71, long for social justice and good weed.

“I prefer seed-grown cannabis to clones,” Norton tells me. “When I use cannabis I want to be surprised. I don’t want the same experience every time.”

Buddhists call that “Beginner’s Mind.”

Norton’s radio show on KOWS (kennethenorton.com/SOL.html) helps listeners center themselves.

Alden needs more than centering. Indeed, he has suffered from PTSD ever since the Vietnam era, though less now than before. As a war vet and a medical-marijuana patient, he wants to exercise what he regards as his right to grow weed. The cops believe otherwise and have busted him. A judge found him guilty of cultivating cannabis and sent him to federal prison, where he studied the law.

After 36 months behind bars, he came home eager to return to his old life. Sonoma County officials arrived at his Windsor home in September 2019, without a search warrant. Alden told them they were trespassing. Permit Sonoma, the bane of nearly every heritage grower, sent him a “Notice of Violation” with a $10,000-a day fine. Alden didn’t pay a cent.

Then he received a second “Notice of Violation,” with a fine of $20,000 per day. Now, he has a $400,000 bill. Norton describes it as “a shakedown and a racket.”

I’d say Alden is a casualty in a war of attrition in which Sonoma County seems to be winning and heritage growers like him seem to be losing.

Norton and Alden both argue that Prop 215, which voters approved in 1996, provides them and other citizens the right to grow medical marijuana.

Omar Figueroa, who is now writing a novel as well as practicing law, sees it another way.

“[Prop] 215 isn’t an affirmation of the right to grow,” he tells me. “Courts have interpreted it very narrowly.”

Still, neither Norton nor Alden are giving up.

“I have no plants in the ground now, but I might have a few,” Alden says. “Marijuana is beautiful and it’s a joy to watch it grow.”

Jonah Raskin is the author “Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War.”

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