News

Siskiyou County’s wild weed woes

A Siskiyou County law enforcement officer in the weeds. (Photo: Siskiyou County)

Illegal marijuana grows in rural Siskiyou County are out of control and state officials should help stop them, local authorities say.

Earlier this month, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors took the unusual step of declaring a state of emergency because of the problem. Republican Sen. Ted Gaines, who represents the rugged area, followed up with a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown asking that he declare a state of emergency in the county as well.

The county, which is on the Oregon border, covers 6,278 square miles and includes the county seat Yreka and Mount Shasta. The 2010 census recorded the population as 44,900.

“The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office, despite outstanding leadership, has simply too few officers to effectively police such a vast geographic area on its own and is in desperate need of any and all assistance the state could provide, including deployment of California National Guard personnel to assist them in their mission to stamp out illegal grows,” Gaines said in the letter.

The sheriff’s department has four detectives assigned to the marijuana team out of a staff of 52 sworn personnel.

The illegal grows are damaging the environment with toxic pesticides and rodenticides and are polluting water, Gaines said. The senator also says workers at the illegal grows are subjected to unhealthy levels of toxic chemicals and may end up with health problems.

The county, which is on the Oregon border, covers 6,278 square miles and includes the county seat Yreka and Mount Shasta. The 2010 census recorded the population as 44,900.

Gaines said he recently took a helicopter ride over the county and was shocked at the scope of illegal marijuana activity, including plots with 80-90 plants being grown similar to an orchard. He estimates there is $1 billion worth of illegal weed being grown in the county and that much of it is being shipped to the East Coast.

“It’s flaunting the law and changing the complexion of the county,” he said.

He estimates that there are 2,000 illegal marijuana growing operations on privately owned land in his county. His department served over 80 search warrants for private grows last year.

While California voters legalized recreational marijuana use for adults over 21 in November, Siskiyou County has decided to prohibit commercial production and sale of cannabis for now. The county also prohibits outdoor marijuana grows.

Hezekiah Allen, executive director of marijuana advocacy organization the California Growers Association, agrees that illegal grows are causing environmental crisis but believes the county’s tough stance on marijuana is to blame for the problems. The county is not providing any legal, regulated pathway to commercially grow marijuana so it is left with black market, environmentally-destroying operations, he said.

Allen said the county is at a crossroads of continuing to the “failed policy of law enforcement and prohibition” or working to regulate marijuana grows.

“We can regulate it or we can continue to fight a losing battle,” he said.

Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey emphasized that he has no problem with people who use a small amount of cannabis for recreational or medical purposes. What he is concerned about is organized crime operations trying to set up multi-million dollar enterprises.

He estimates that there are 2,000 illegal marijuana growing operations on privately owned land in his county. His department served over 80 search warrants for private grows last year. That doesn’t include the 60 percent of the county that is on public land.

Lopey said the problem of illegal grows ramped up in the past three years and is happening all over the northern part of California.

Earlier this year, a brother and sister tried to bribe the sheriff with $1 million to ignore their illegal outdoor marijuana growing operations.

“People are taking advantage of rural counties because they know we have limited resources,” he said. “There’s been this attitude of ‘We’re going to thumb our nose at the authorities and we’re going to do what we want because we’re making a lot of money.’”

Earlier this year, a brother and sister tried to bribe the sheriff with $1 million to ignore their illegal outdoor marijuana growing operations. The case resulted in charges filed against the pair by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Lopey said local residents are fed up with the huge illegal grows and have lodged hundreds of complaints with his office.

Among their concerns are the effect on water. Lopey said about 3 million gallons of water is being used for illegal cannabis every day.

He believes the county is in a state of emergency with dire effects on public safety just as serious as when it experiences a massive forest fire.

“There may be other solutions that don’t require the governor declaring a state of emergency.” — Kelly Huston.

“This is a social justice, environmental catastrophe in the making,” he said. “All I’m doing as a sheriff is saying enough is enough and I need additional support from state and federal authorities if possible.”

Kelly Huston, a deputy director at the California Office of Emergency Services, said his department is reviewing Siskiyou County’s request for services and trying to see what assistance could be provided. “There may be other solutions that don’t require the governor declaring a state of emergency,” he said.

He expects the Office of Emergency Services to respond to Siskiyou County with a formal letter of its evaluation within a couple of weeks. He said he doesn’t recall any other county in the state asking for a declaration of a state of emergency over illegal marijuana grows.


  • miquel95929

    One thing that this story missed is that part of the conflict is Race. A certain percentage of the people growing are Hmong, including the alleged Bribe suspects. There is some indication that the complaints are almost always lodged against Asian growers while White growers are more tolerated. The Sheriff himself is also a national leader in the extreme Right Wing “Constitutional Sheriff Movement”.

Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: