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30 November 2005

violent deadly Prohibition days are here again (and Bob objects)

The Ukiah Daily Journal (California USA)
Friday 25 November 2005


Did We Learn Anything from Prohibition

To the Editor:

In "Cannabis distributor Les Crane slain" (Nov. 18), you quote Mendocino County Sheriff's Detective Commander D.J. Miller as linking marijuana growing with violence.

For 14 years, the production and sale of wine and other alcoholic beverages were accompanied by enormous criminal gang violence. When alcohol was made a crime -- but people were still willing to pay for it -- Prohibition became a government charter to enrich and empower violent criminal gangs like the Mafia. And Americans drank more alcohol than they did when it was legal.

When asked what he thought of Prohibition, Will Rogers replied: "Well, I guess it's better than no liquor at all."

More than a charter -- Prohibition and violent gangs were a partnership. During alcohol Prohibition, an estimated 15 percent of American law enforcement officers were on the payroll of bootleggers, rumrunners and criminal gangs. (It is impossible to maintain a large criminal enterprise without police cooperation and protection.) Law enforcement and government were regarded as a contemptuous joke by most Americans.

In 1933, under the leadership of newly-elected President Franklin Roosevelt, alcoholic beverages were legalized again, and all the violence associated with the alcohol market ended overnight. The manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages have ever since taken place under strict government supervision, and the beverages are heavily taxed.

No one has been murdered over a wine deal gone sour since 1933. Even the desperately thirsty just go to the neighborhood liquor store, pay less than $10, and get the intoxication they want. The beverages are certified pure, untainted and of precise potency by the government. All disputes over sales turf by alcohol distributors are settled by lawyers in civil court.

Detective Miller must now investigate a murder that could only have happened because marijuana is a prohibited substance and a crime. If it remains a crime, what does it say about police and political priorities? That we prefer murders and violence to decriminalizing, supervising and taxing a substance far less harmful to people than alcohol?

Robert Merkin
Northampton, Massachusetts


The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California USA)
Sunday 20 November 2005

Pot Activist Likely Knew Killers

Police Believe Gunmen
Who Robbed Laytonville Man
Familiar With Home

by Glenda Anderson

Medical marijuana activist Les Crane probably knew the masked gunmen who kicked in the door to his secluded Laytonville home in the middle of the night, raided his safe of pot and cash and beat two other people with bats before shooting Crane multiple times, killing him, authorities said Saturday.

"From all indications, they were familiar with the interior of the residence," said Mendocino County Sheriff's Lt. D.J. Miller.

Crane, 39, suffered as many as five bullet wounds when he was gunned down in his bedroom about 2:30 a.m. Friday.

Crane's girlfriend, Jennifer Drewry, was sleeping in a separate bedroom and suffered a broken arm when she was attacked. A friend, Sean Dirlam, was in a third bedroom and suffered facial injuries as the three, possibly four assailants cleaned out the large safe, Miller said.

Authorities said they have identified possible suspects, but no arrests have been made.

The violent and bloody altercation shook the tiny northern Mendocino County community along Highway 101 where cattle graze in fields bordered by oak and conifer forests and marijuana is a backcountry way of life for some.

"The vibe here is contaminated," said Matt Bridges, a close friend of Crane's.

Along with a half-dozen others, he donned yellow rubber gloves and spent Saturday morning cleaning the blood from Crane's home, a recently remodeled double-wide trailer with redwood shingles. The door, which investigators believe was kicked in, had been removed as evidence.

Another friend, Tim Holbert, who is better known in the community as "Tie-dye" for his multicolored garb, wept as he wiped blood spatters from the dresser mirror in Crane's bedroom.

Crane's friends believe he was forced to open the safe before he was shot. But the safe might have been open already, said Miller.

Later Saturday, Crane's son, Jeremiah Crane, struggled to come to terms with the killing as he stood outside his home on the other side of town.

He and several of his father's friends and associates are convinced that at least one of the gunmen knew Crane. They believe those responsible are involved in a different drug culture, methamphetamine, which is associated with violence.

Jeremiah Crane was wearing a T-shirt made shortly after the slaying with his father's image and one of his favorite sayings, "God gave it to us, no one can take it away."

He said his father, originally from Connecticut, underwent a transformation after moving to Laytonville three years ago from Florida, where he had been selling tie-dyed clothing and was addicted to crack cocaine. He came to California with just $200 in his pocket, opened a tie-dye store and began growing medical marijuana, which he considered a "sacred weed," his son said.

Crane was driven to promote and fight for medical use of marijuana, which he said was put on Earth by God to benefit man. He called his dispensaries churches and himself a reverend. When he died, Crane had some 1,000 medical marijuana patients, pot dispensaries in Ukiah and Laytonville, his home on six acres, and additional property on the Mendocino Coast.

Jeremiah Crane and several of his friends said they plan to leave Laytonville because of the brutal attack.

"The people who did this are greedy, worthless people," said Jam Stevens, one of those who had come to Les Crane's house to help out Saturday.

As people came in and out, some smoking joints, Bridges said some of the other pot growers in the area didn't like Crane because he openly advertised and campaigned for medical marijuana. That was a problem because it attracted the attention both of law enforcement, which arrested Crane earlier this year, and criminal types who steal from legitimate growers, he said.

"Les was too high-profile for his own good," Bridges said. "I tried to warn him."

Crane, who was animated and had a forceful East Coast persona, could also be obnoxious and some people didn't like him. But he was a man with good intentions and gave away a lot of pot to people who couldn't afford it, Bridges said.

Just days before his death, he donated about 600 turkeys to local food banks, something he's been doing for several years.

He also opened a youth center in Laytonville, a place where children could hang out after school before their parents came home from work.

The center is equipped with two pool tables, a ping-pong table, two large TV screens and arts and crafts materials. Crane outfitted the center, paid rent on the building and paid a person to watch over the children, friends said.

On Saturday, makeshift memorials began materializing outside Crane's youth center and the Ukiah cannabis club.

His ashes will be scattered in a stream on the Westport property that feeds the ocean, his son said. A memorial service has yet to be scheduled.

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