September 25, 2015
“Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office Update on Marijuana Enforcement”
The purpose of this article is to summarize some of the recent accomplishments and challenges facing the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) as it combats a significant marijuana problem that exists in numerous public and private property sites throughout Siskiyou County. Numerous calls have been received from concerned citizens about the proliferation of marijuana on private lands, which has become one of the greatest threats to public health, safety and the environment the county has faced in many years. Most of our citizens know that the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, SCSO, and the Planning Department worked for a year to enact a marijuana ordinance that balances the rights of legitimate medical marijuana recommendation holders and their neighbors who often are impacted by marijuana cultivation. This year the SCSO has seen a marked increase in the number of marijuana cultivation sites initiated on private property. Most calls and complaints of possible ordinance violations have occurred for cultivation sites located in the Mt. Shasta Forest, KRCE (Hornbrook area), and Shasta Vista. Hundreds of marijuana cultivation sites have been identified and numerous locations have been visited by a combined team consisting of the SCSO and Community Development Code Enforcement Officer managed by the Siskiyou County Planning Department. Nearly 100 private property grow sites have been visited and numerous notices to abate identified nuisance violations of the county marijuana ordinance have been issued to violators. Most citizens know that the ordinance limits the number of plants that can be grown, requires primary residency, stand-off distances are applicable, a primary structure for residing at the site is required, and a water source and county-approved sewer systems are required. There are other provisions such as opaque fencing and generators are supposed to be placed further than 100 feet from a property line. Generally, the violations observed in many county areas have been egregious and most violators have broken more than one provision of the marijuana ordinance. The ordinance is designed to be primarily complaint-driven and voluntary compliance is preferred over enforcement action; however, while a deputy or detective is patrolling county areas they are authorized to take proactive action to address serious ordinance-related violations. Unfortunately, there are organized efforts by groups of individuals to grow marijuana at several marijuana cultivation sites, which is a violation of law because current provisions of the Compassionate Use Act and SB 420 (Medical Marijuana Program) do not allow organized, for-profit cultivation, sale, or transportation for sale of marijuana. Smaller portions of land are generally restricted to six mature and 12 immature marijuana plants and the largest (over 20 acres of land) land parcels still only allow 24 mature and 36 immature marijuana plants no matter how many physician-issued marijuana recommendations may exist for residents of that site. SCSO has devoted an experienced Detective Sergeant and extra-help Deputy to work with the Planning Department’s Code Enforcement Officer to enforce the county’s marijuana ordinance. If evidence of criminal activity such as an amount of plants that are reasonably inconsistent with the current medical needs of the involved patient or resident, drug trafficking, manufacturing concentrated cannabis such as “honey oil,” or transportation of marijuana in large quantities may be cause for enforcement action over and above the county ordinance. The county ordinance is a land use ordinance and follows administrative or civil law processes; however, ordinance violations can result in a citation under the right circumstances; moreover, criminal sanctions are always applicable if the law is broken, most commonly the case when marijuana is being sold for profit or distributed to other endangered parties such as children or minors.
Siskiyou County is a federally-recognized “High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area” (HIDTA) and participates in Central Valley HIDTA, a drug enforcement-related consortium of numerous law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, and local level dedicated to fighting the massive drug trafficking problem in California. Central Valley HIDTA agencies include federal, state, and local city and county law enforcement departments including participants from the Counties of Siskiyou, Trinity, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Tulare. Shasta County has also received HIDTA support. According to Sheriff Jon Lopey, “It is a privilege and great benefit to be affiliated with Central Valley HIDTA because we are now networked with numerous law enforcement agencies within the region to help us combat illicit drug use and trafficking problems that are at rapidly approaching epidemic proportions.”
This Department is working diligently to control the proliferation of marijuana in our county. Many people coming here are from other states, counties and other jurisdictions and many of them have no intention of establishing a permanent residence here; however, too many are willing to buy relatively inexpensive land, set up shop, typically establish a temporary structure such as a tent or unsuitable equivalent, and cultivate marijuana, which hurts the environment, uses a huge amount of water, and often times waste materials, pesticides, and other environmental damage is done, including pollution and damage inflicted upon delicate watersheds and habitat. A marijuana plant can take from 2 to 14 gallons of day to maintain its health and there has been an increase in water thefts and illegal stream bed diversions within the county.
What can citizens do to help us combat this menace in our neighborhoods? Call the SCSO Dispatch 24-hour phone number of (530) 841-2900 to report law violations related to marijuana cultivation. If it is an emergency, dial 9-1-1, otherwise, the dispatch center is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If an ordinance violation is suspected, contact the Planning Department’s Community Development team at (530) 841-2100. When a call is received the Code Enforcement Officer and SCSO team will make every effort to visit the site and take appropriate action if an ordinance or law violation is detected. It will also help if citizens report water trucks and moving-type vans moving from the impacted areas. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has issued a number of citations to water trucks carrying water to marijuana cultivation sites because often these vehicles are not in compliance with the various California Vehicle Code or California Code of Regulation provisions of law. Often times large van-type rigs, U-Hauls, and campers carry marijuana from sites that are growing marijuana for profit and these movements should be reported to the Department at the 24-hour dispatch number. The Siskiyou County marijuana ordinance is a land use zoning measure that calls for warnings and potential administrative sanctions instead of criminal penalties, and is designed to curtail illegal marijuana cultivation but at the same time protect the rights of legitimate marijuana recommendation holders operating in compliance with the law. However, violators of the marijuana ordinance will soon receive citations for court appearance in local courts if administrative sanctions are not practical or effective during the current marijuana season. The citations will be issued by members of the Sheriff’s Office specifically assigned the duty of monitoring and responding to serious complaints related to the marijuana ordinance. In the meantime, the Board of Supervisors, SCSO, and Planning Department are reviewing future modifications to the marijuana ordinance and enforcement protocols to make the provisions even more effective.
The Rocky Mountain HIDTA report ‘The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact,’ (Volume 3, September 2015, was released a few days ago). This comprehensive report can be reviewed at www.rmhidta.org/reports. This report has identified many serious public health and safety problems that are occurring in Colorado as a result of the legalization of the drug there for recreational and medicinal purposes. Many of the same problems that Colorado sheriffs are encountering are beginning to manifest I Siskiyou County. For example, from 2010 – 2014, Colorado has experienced a 92 percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths; during 2014, drivers testing positive for THC (marijuana) as a primary DUI-related factor have gone up 45 percent; during 2013, 11.16 percent of Colorado youth ages 12 to 17 were considered marijuana users (3rd in nation); drug-related suspensions/expulsions have increased 40 percent in Colorado (2008/2009 to 2013/2014); in 2013, 29 percent of college age students (ages 18 to 25) were considered current marijuana users (2nd in nation); in 2013, 10.13 percent of adults were considered current marijuana users (86 percent higher than national average); during 2014, there was a 29 percent increase in emergency room visit due to marijuana use and there was a 39 percent increase in marijuana-related hospitalizations; during 2013 – 2014, the average number of children exposed to marijuana, a 138 percent increase (2006 – 2008 to 2009 – 2012); Colorado marijuana interdictions have increased 365 percent (2009 – 2012); U.S. Mail parcel interceptions of Colorado marijuana destined for 38 states, increased 2,033 percent (2010 – 2014); seized marijuana parcels destined outside the U.S. have increased 7,750 percent (2006 – 2008, compared to 2013 – 2014); national THC (potency) has risen from an average of 3.96 percent in 1995 to an average of 12.55 percent in 2013 (the average THC or potency level of marijuana in Colorado was 17.1 percent); Denver has more licensed medical marijuana centers (198) than pharmacies (117); crime in Denver increased 12.3 percent from 2012 to 2014; homelessness has increased with the appeal of legal marijuana being a factor. According to Sheriff Lopey, “In my opinion, the proliferation of marijuana cultivation in Siskiyou County, especially the variety that violates provisions of the county’s marijuana ordinance, presents the most serious public health and safety threat to our county that I have seen in years.” So far during 2015, SCSO has seized over 10,000 marijuana plants and the North State Marijuana Investigation Team and U.S. Forest Service have seized neraly70,000 plants and hundreds of pounds of processed marijuana.
According to Sheriff Jon Lopey, “Although the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office will protect one’s constitutional right to obtain medical recommendations for the use of marijuana in compliance with the law, we will not tolerate law breakers. There has been a big influx of people temporarily moving to Siskiyou County from other states and counties to cultivate marijuana. Often times such cultivation efforts violate the rights of other citizens, ravage the land, and frequently, growers reap big profits, which is still against the law. The environmental damage to our lands can be catastrophic and may include illegal water diversions from streams and other watersheds. Watersheds are sometimes polluted by pesticides, herbicides, rodenticides, and tons of garbage. Domestic animals, game, and fish are can be endangered. It is important for all of the citizens to realize that the county is moving forward with the ordinance and criminal sanctions if appropriate and we are making progress. Violators of the county ordinance can expect to see us in the near future. We are working with the code enforcement officer and will conduct independent operations to address complaints from citizens if warranted by the circumstances. Again, sanctions may include notices, administrative sanctions, and citations for court appearances. Arrest for criminal violations is also sometimes appropriate depending on the situation.”
Anyone with information about a marijuana ordinance violation should contact the Planning Department at (530) 841-2100, or, if a criminal violation is suspected, contact 9-1-1 if it is an emergency or (530) 841-2900 for other crime reports, which connects you with the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office 24-hour dispatch center.