The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office says in the last two weeks their Interagency Marijuana Investigation Team has served 36 warrants targeting large cannabis cultivations to bust up drug operations in Mt. Shasta Vista, Mt. Shasta Forest, Klamath River Country Estates and the Bray-Tennant area. This brings their 2017 total to 175 warrants with more planned this week.
In the last week, SIMIT seized over 2,558 pounds of illegal cannabis plants and about 2,558 pounds of processed marijuana. SIMIT is serving search warrants as a team with additional assistance from the local, state, and sometimes federal level. SIMIT again worked with Siskiyou County Public Works and Code Enforcement Officers from the Planning Department. Code Enforcement Officers are focusing their efforts on illegal structures, Porta-Potties, water treatment/septic problems, well issues, fencing, generators, and other ordinance related violations. Public Works is providing exceptional support by providing dump trucks and a backhoe to help haul the large, mature cannabis plants being encountered by team members.
On-highway seizures of illegal cannabis loads continue to be made with one large seizure made over the weekend, which brings to eight the number of on-highway seizures made in recent weeks in motor vehicles traveling local highways.
During 2017, SIMIT has conducted counter-drug operation in various areas of Siskiyou County, mostly in Shasta Vista, Klamath River Country Estates (KRCE) in the Hornbrook area; Weed, Lake Shastina, Montague, Big Springs, Mt. Shasta Forest, Mt. Shasta, and Iron Gate (Copco Lake area), and Butte Valley, seizing approximately 27.071 illegal plants and 12,570 pounds of processed cannabis. During those private property drug raids, 24 firearms were seized; two water trucks impounded, and a number of arrests made. Seven additional search warrants were served by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in partnership with SCSO, SIMIT, the Siskiyou Unified Major Investigation Team (SUMIT), and the North State Major Investigation Team (NSMIT). During 2017, SIMIT has also seized three flammable and dangerous THC extraction or “BHO” labs (concentrated cannabis). During the counter-drug operations, a number of greenhouses, growing nurseries, outdoor cultivation sites, and two indoor illicit cannabis grows were eradicated. 111 criminal cases are being prepared for submission to the Siskiyou County District Attorney.
The illicit cannabis plants seized by SIMIT (27,071) are worth an estimated $324,852,000.00 ($324.8 million) on the retail drug market with a three pound per plant yield. The processed cannabis (12,570 pounds) is estimated to be worth at least $50,280.00.00 ($50.2 million) on the illegal retail drug market. Totals for the illegal plants and processed cannabis seized by SIMIT during the year total $375,132,000.00 ($375.1 million). According to Sheriff Jon Lopey, “We are still seeing large-scale illicit cannabis grow sites in many county areas and these recent operations prove there is still a large-scale effort by many illegal growers to violate the law and existing county guidelines, which do not permit more than 12 medical cannabis plants. These 12 plants are required to be grown in an approved indoor structure. There is also mounting evidence of large-scale, organized crime efforts to finance the numerous illicit grow sites that have been observed or eradicated. The number of plants have typically ranged from 99 illegal plants to a high of 2,985 plants on single parcels. Many plants are now being harvested and the seizure of processed cannabis, which is typically packaged for transportation and sales and in some cases hanging in specially-constructed drying sheds are increasingly more common.”
The SCSO and the Siskiyou County District Attorney’s Office formed SIMIT during 2016 and the team has assumed the primary mission of enforcing drug-related laws and the county’s marijuana ordinance on private property. Significant increases of illegal cannabis plants and processed marijuana are being encountered this year compared to 2016.
Thus far during 2017 and during the previous year, SIMIT investigators continue to encounter environmental damage inflicted by growers, including downed trees, garbage, raw sewage, illegal water diversions, chemicals and fertilizers used in cultivation sites, and other adverse impacts. Illegal campfires on land parcels have been detected along with a number of fire hazards associated with debris piles, fuels, and hazardous substances. CAL FIRE law enforcement officers have cited many fire hazard-related violations during several counter-drug operations. According to Sheriff Lopey, “We continue to be concerned about the conditions of the environment during our search warrant operations that reinforce the fact that environmental damage and fire hazards are particularly common in many of these illicit grow sites.”
According to Sergeant Jeremiah LaRue, “Major impacts of these illegal marijuana cultivation sites continue to include but are not limited to open camp fires, improper grading, human waste, run-off sentiment, nutrients and fertilizers leaching into the soil and watershed; improper site development, illegal road construction, run-off into streams, rivers, and lakes, illegal stream bed alternations, water thefts, and other public health and environmental concerns that adversely impact water quality and natural habitats, potentially harmful to birds, fish, other animals.”
It is estimated that these illegal, outdoor marijuana sites, on private property alone, are expending up to 3 million gallons of water a day. According to Sheriff Lopey, “I would also like to remind my fellow citizens that we are not seeking enforcement against legitimate medical marijuana users or recreational growers in compliance with recently-passed Proposition 64, as long as those citizens comply with the law. Under Prop 64 or the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, recreational adult users of cannabis may possess up to six plants and 28.5 grams of processed marijuana.”
Another task force, the California Department of Justice-led North State Major Investigation Team (NSMIT), a regional team working with the United States Forest Service (USFS) and other federal, state, and local agencies, is tasked with curtailing illegal marijuana grow sites on public lands. NSMIT, including a detective sergeant from SCSO, is investigating illicit cannabis cultivation sites on public land (mostly USFS) areas of Siskiyou County and additional counter-drug enforcement operations are planned in the near future. NSMIT has also detected hazardous chemicals that threaten the environment in public land grows during their productive 2016 enforcement season. NSMIT worked with the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), a federal, state, and local team that conducted a series of drug raids in public land areas within the last month and most recently, remote areas of the Klamath National Forest. To date, about 106,061 illegal cannabis plants have been eradicated and several arrests made. The plants seized, based on a three pound yield, could have resulted in about $1,272,732,000.00 ($1.3 billion) in illicit retail drug proceeds on the streets. NSMIT has seized 5,650 pounds of processed cannabis and 10 suspects have been arrested. The 5,650 in processed cannabis prepared for sale can garner about $22.5 million on the retail drug market.
Recently, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to again approve and extend a proclamation declaring a “local state of emergency” in Siskiyou County due to the overwhelming number of illegal cannabis cultivation sites in the county on public and private properties, which present significant public health, safety, and environmental dangers to the county and its citizens.
According to Sheriff Lopey, “This proclamation and support from state agencies has already resulted in increased interest in the illicit drug trade in Siskiyou County. Since the proclamation, we have received increased and vital support for the eradication of illicit cannabis plants on private property from the California Army National Guard’s (CARNG) counter drug unit, assistance has been received from the local and Northern Division offices of the California Highway Patrol (CHP), and CAL FIRE law enforcement has provided some support. Additionally assistance has been provided by the California Department of Justice through the SUMIT and NSMIT drug task forces. DEA has also provided additional support. There are also other state agencies assisting with our water truck and illegal drug trade organizations. Recently, state officials advised me that our proclamation is still under consideration at the state level. Along with Board of Supervisors’ support, Senator Gaines and Assemblyman Dahle have sent letters to Governor Brown, strongly supporting our request for additional support and proclamation of a ‘local state of emergency.’ With emergency operations still on going in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake, and Solano Counties, it is reasonably to conclude our request will take more time to review and approve. We are fortunate that we have overwhelming local, state, and federal elected representatives that support our efforts 100%. We are attempting to stop lawlessness, preserve our environment, protect our most vulnerable populations such as children and teenagers, and we are honoring the countless calls for help from our citizens reporting numerous ‘quality of life’ issues impacting them in our county.”
Sergeant LaRue added, “Anyone with information about an illegal marijuana cultivation site is urged to contact the SCSO’s 24-hour Dispatch Center at (530) 841-2900. Citizens may also contact the Siskiyou County Planning Department (Community Development) to report suspected ordinance violations related to non-permitted structures, septic tanks, well issues, trash, fencing, and similar ordinance violations at (530) 841-2100. Citizens with information about illicit drug activities that are non-cannabis related such as methamphetamine, heroin or other illicit drugs are urged to contact SUMIT at (530) 842-8374, or the SCSO 24-hour Dispatch Center. In partnership with the Siskiyou County’s Department of Health and Human Services, a youth anti-drug and safety program (DARE) will resume this fall in targeted schools to further educate our children about the dangers associated with illicit drug, tobacco, and alcohol use. The program also discusses other topics such as bullying and how to fight back against the exploitation and abuse of children and how to identify and report such inappropriate behaviors to the proper authorities. A highly-qualified former police sergeant has been hired as a reserve deputy to fulfill this important role.”