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Senate Vote Called a Stunt : Bill Targets Pesticide Use by Growers of Pot

Times Staff Writer

In a move labeled a publicity stunt by opponents, the Senate agreed on Monday to boost penalties for some marijuana growers, not to deter drug use but to protect deer and other wildlife.

Growing marijuana is a felony. The Senate action would add two years to prison sentences for marijuana growers who use pesticides that poison wildlife.

The measure, sent to the Assembly on a 23-6 vote and carried by Sen. H. L. Richardson (R-Glendora), would make it a separate felony for a person to hunt or kill small animals or wildlife by using pesticides in or near a place where 10 or more marijuana plants are being grown, processed or stored.

Avid Hunter

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Richardson, an avid hunter, said poison from marijuana fields has killed 10,000 deer in a three-county area of Northern California, Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties.

Sen. Berry Keene (D-Benicia), who represents the three counties, charged that the measure is a back-door attempt to bring stiffer penalties for marijuana growers, not to protect wildlife. He suggested that the legislation be expanded to apply to growers of all crops who use pesticides rather than limiting it to marijuana farmers.

“Occasionally, something is brought before this house that exceeds the height of absurdity, and this is such a bill,” Keene said, calling the Richardson measure a publicity stunt.

“This requires translation,” Keene said of the bill. “It’s not that he (Richardson) is concerned about wildlife but about punishing marijuana growers. That is perfectly fine, if you are going to be truthful and debate this as an extraordinary enhancement of criminal penalties for the cultivation of marijuana.”

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‘Do You Think It Matters’

Addressing the question to Richardson, Keene asked, “Do you think it matters to the deer that the person who does the poisoning grows marijuana or zucchini?”

Richardson replied that it is the Senate’s responsibility to oversee the rights of animals and said, “I’m more concerned in communicating to marijuana growers with this legislation than in voicing concern over what a deer thinks.”

The Senate was told that Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, who supports the bill, said that vast numbers of animals have been killed without a permit and out of season by marijuana growers who place poisons around their gardens to prevent animals from eating their crops.

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In addition to the attorney general, the measure is supported by the California Wildlife Federation, the Defenders of Wildlife, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Humboldt County sheriff and the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement.

It is opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, and the California Public Defenders Assn.

‘Knee-Jerk Reaction’

Richardson, noting that much of the problem occurs in Keene’s Senate district, said he wonders why Keene would not support the measure. Keene said he considers the bill a “knee-jerk reaction” cloaked as a law-and-order bill.

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In a related matter, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration has scheduled a hearing today in Los Angeles to discuss the agency’s plans for spraying the controversial herbicide paraquat on marijuana fields in Northern California in an attempt to destroy the marijuana.


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