Siskiyou County Sheriff Suddenly Interested In Environmental Crimes Once Cannabis & Hmong Are Mentioned

An incisive article from High Country News detailing a sheriff’s sudden interest in Environmental Crimes once illegal cannabis farms and the Hmong farmers who crop them are mentioned.. it’s also instructive to see how quickly his budget was raised to deal with the issue.

Here’s the introduction and we highly recommend you read the whole article

Last summer, Siskiyou County’s recently appointed sheriff, Jeremiah LaRue, released a video on YouTube to explain two controversial new county groundwater laws. The drought was severe that year, he said, and the “wasteful extraction” of water for illegal cannabis cultivation was making it worse. LaRue appeared in front of a green-screen projection of iconic Mount Shasta, like a news anchor, while stock photos of cannabis plants, armed men and helicopters punctuated his talking points. The new water laws would ban the delivery of groundwater to cannabis farms, in what LaRue described as the most effective strategy to stop them from “increasing violent crime, draining our water and polluting our environment.”

The environmentalist rhetoric and talk of water policy signaled a shift in how LaRue’s department policed the illicit cannabis industry. Increasingly responsible for the county’s land use and water, LaRue told High Country News that he needed better “tools” — criminal penalties — to deal with “environmental crimes.” 

A few months later, the County Board of Supervisors that appointed him adopted a new budget that authorized over $27 million in police protection — about $1.6 million more than the county administrator had recommended and over $4.1 million more than was spent the previous year. The budget line for marijuana suppression forfeiture — money set aside for confiscation — nearly doubled, from just over $61,000 in fiscal year 2020-2021 to nearly $119,000 for 2022. It was the largest increase in a decade. Meanwhile, the county planning department, which oversees water, building and general environmental regulations, struggled to retain its small team of code enforcement officers. 

The budget increase mirrors the county’s cannabis boom, something that’s been difficult to quantify historically as it’s moved in and out of legality. In 2019, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors declared a “state of emergency,” claiming that over 2,000 “cultivation sites,” both large and small, dotted the arid valley, overwhelming the sheriff’s office. In a legal affidavit in early 2022, LaRue said that the “rugged, unspoiled countryside” was “covered with unpermitted, temporary structures.” In response, the sheriff’s office is cracking down on what it sees as an ever-growing problem. Instead of implementing a permitting system to manage the uptick, like nearby counties, Siskiyou’s leaders decided to outlaw cannabis operations and enact a policy to eradicate as many grows as possible. 


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