The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) released the results of the most recent counter-drug raids conducted in October and year-to-date in Siskiyou County to eradicate illicit marijuana cultivation sites in Siskiyou County. During 2018, SCSO and its partner investigators conducted search warrant operations on 140 properties containing illegal marijuana cultivation sites in Siskiyou County. These operations resulted in the seizure of 21,426 illegal marijuana plants, the confiscation of 14,406 pounds of processed, illicit cannabis, and seven firearms were seized. 19 people were arrested, 14 were cited for various violations, and $25,222.00 in currency was taken from illegal drug operation sites. Wholesale and retail marijuana prices have dropped since legalization of recreational marijuana in California and other states. The wholesale value of the marijuana seized in Siskiyou County during 2018 was about $64,278,000.00 for the 21,426 illegal plants seized and about $128,556,000.00 for the illicit plants, on the retail illegal drug market. The processed marijuana was valued up to about $14,406,000.00 for the 14,406 pounds on the illicit wholesale drug market and about $28,812,000.00 on the illegal retail drug market. The total value of the illicit marijuana seized (plants and processed cannabis) was estimated to be approximately $157,368,000.00 on the retail drug market in the Eastern United States. Values fluctuate and can be less and much more, depending where the marijuana is sold by illicit drug traffickers.
This report will be presented to the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors during January 8, 2019. A multi-million dollar seizure total resulted as a result of these counter-drug operations in October alone. The counter-drug operations were conducted by the Siskiyou Interagency Marijuana Investigation Team (SIMIT), a task force formed by SCSO and the Siskiyou District Attorney’s Office. Assistance was also received from the Siskiyou Unified Major Investigation Team (SUMIT), a California Department of Justice (DOJ)-led team and members of the Siskiyou County Public Works County Road’s Team. Public Works specialists were instrumental by providing heavy equipment to remove and deposit the thousands of pounds-worth of illicit marijuana seized in various counter-drug operations. Code enforcement officers from the Planning Department’s Community Development Department provided support as well.
On Thursday, October 25, 2018 SIMIT served a search warrant on two adjacent parcels owned by the same people, which was over 500 acres and 10 illegal marijuana gardens were located on the parcels. Only one marijuana cultivation site was still active after thousands of pounds of processed marijuana was found hanging in several large and smaller growing structures on the property or stored in one-pound baggies and large garbage-sized plastic bags. The parcels were located in vicinity of Blackfoot Drive north of County Road A-12, east of Big Springs Road (Montague). Seized during the successful operation were 584 illegal marijuana plants, 7, 812 pounds of illegal, processed marijuana, several thousand dollars in United States currency, and equipment were seized because it was used to logistically support the largescale illicit cannabis growing operation (e.g., eight generators, seven water pumps, two chainsaws, two marijuana trimming machines, and one auger). Three suspects were arrested at the site for illegal cultivation of marijuana for sales and it is anticipated additional charges will also be filed for California Fish and Game Code violations. The processed marijuana (7,812 pounds) was valued up to about $15.6 million retail and up to about $7.8 million wholesale on the East Coast drug market. The illegal marijuana plants (584 plants) based on an average 3-pound yield, are worth up to $1.8 million wholesale and approximately $3.5 million on the East Coast retail street market.
On October 10, 2018 SIMIT detectives served search warrants in the Mt. Shasta Vista area, which involved the seizure of illegal contraband on eight separate properties. Seized were 855 illegal marijuana plants and 3,198.5 pounds of processed marijuana. Seven people at various sites were cited for illegal cultivation and possession of marijuana for sales and criminal conspiracy. Three generators, used to support the illegal drug trafficking operation were also seized by investigators. The illicit marijuana was valued up to about $2.6 million wholesale for the illicit plants and up to about $5.1 million retail for the illegal plants. The processed marijuana (3,198.5 lbs.) was valued up to $3.2 million wholesale and about $6.4 million retail on the East Coast illegal drug market. On October 1, 2018, SIMIT served search warrants on 10 separate sites in Mt. Shasta Vista. 1,405 marijuana plants were seized, 744 pounds of processed marijuana confiscated, and four citations were issued to property occupants. The illegal marijuana plants (1,405 with 3-pound yield) were valued at up to $4.2 million wholesale and up to about $8.4 million on the retail illegal drug market. The processed marijuana (744 pounds) was valued at up to $749,000.00 wholesale and up to $1.5 million on the retail illicit drug market.
On October 2, 2018, search warrants were served on three sites in Mt. Shasta Vista. 257 illicit marijuana plants were seized, along with 363 pounds of processed illegal marijuana. The illegal plants (257 with 3-pound yield) were valued at up to $771,000.00 and up to $1.5 million retail. The processed marijuana (363 pounds) was valued at up to $363,000.00 wholesale and up to $726,000.00 retail.
During 2018, SIMIT investigators seized six illegal THC extraction labs. These labs produce a highly potent form of concentrated cannabis that can range from about 60 to 95%+ in its THC potency. THC is the active ingredient in marijuana that provides the “high” to consumers. Illicit marijuana typically used to smoke in rolled cigarettes ranges from over about 12% to 35% in THC potency; however, most of the marijuana tested locally tests well over 20% in THC potency. Vaping, an electronic cigarette product, which is popular in communities of the county at increasing rates, can produce very high THC levels. A recent school-based survey indicates one in eleven students in the U.S. have used marijuana in electronic cigarettes, heightening health concerns about the new popularity of vaping among teens. Parents should realize vaping can use concentrated marijuana products that do not emit a cannabis odor but can be masked by other odors such as strawberry’s or similar scents.
During 2018, SIMIT served 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, illegal Porta-Potties, water treatment/septic problems, well issues, fencing, generators, and other ordinance related violations. A new Siskiyou County enforcement ordinance that can now be applied to illegal marijuana ordinance-related violations has been passed by the Board of Supervisors and will help deal with many “quality of life” issues prevalent in many Siskiyou County neighborhoods under siege due to the illegal marijuana cultivation challenge.
During 2018, SIMIT conducted in excess of 140 counter-drug operation in various areas of Siskiyou County, mostly in Mt. 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), Butte Valley, and other incorporated areas of Siskiyou County.
According to Sheriff Jon Lopey, “We have seen hundreds of large-scale illicit cannabis grow sites in many county areas but thus far during 2018, we have seen a reduction in the number of illicit cultivation plots. Existing county guidelines do not permit more than 12 cannabis plants. The 12 plants are required to be grown in an approved indoor structure. No marijuana can be grown outdoors in the county at this time. Although the reductions are encouraging we still have far too many illegal cultivation sites on private and public lands of the county. I witnessed this firsthand during an overflight of several impacted areas on September 27, 2018.”
Another strategy to address the overwhelming and serious illegal marijuana cultivation problem in county areas included an expansion of the SCSO’s highway enforcement efforts for 2018. During October 2018, SCSO patrol units seized seven illegal marijuana loads being transported on county highways in motor vehicles. Typically, these illicit drug loads are moving to other states in various parts of the nation. One of the seizures was initiated by the CHP. On October 5, 2018, a seizure involved the detected and confiscation of 2,136 pounds of marijuana. On October 10, 2018, 369 pounds of marijuana were seized. On October 11, 2018, 600 pounds of marijuana were detected and confiscated and on the same day, 1,251 pounds of cannabis were seized in a separate incident. On October 13, 2018, 471 pounds of marijuana were seized. On October 22, 2018, 281 pounds were detected and seized. On October 25, 2018, 75 pounds of illegal cannabis were seized. In total, this brief but productive highway enforcement program resulted in the seizure of 5,183 pounds of marijuana, destined to out-of-state locations, which means more illicit marijuana in the hands of children, adults, and more damage to families, neighborhoods, and communities from many different jurisdictions, many of which do not allow medicinal and/or recreational marijuana use. The highway seizures were worth about $10.2 million on the retail illicit drug market in the Eastern United States.
SIMIT is also coordinating their investigations with other agencies such as the Western State Intelligence Network (WSIN). WSIN has done some analytical work for SIMIT, which has helped with some investigations. SIMIT’s lead investigator has also attended a coordinating meeting with HIDTA task forces in the Eastern United States. More coordination and synchronization of investigations, which often involve illegal drug transactions outside of the state have proven helpful and detectives from one of those task forces visited Siskiyou County and went on some SIMIT drug raids to familiarize themselves with tactics, techniques, procedures, and environmental conditions related to illicit marijuana cultivation and trafficking in Siskiyou County, which impacts their respective jurisdictional area of responsibility.
During 2018 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 several fire hazard-related violations during several counter-drug operations. According to Sheriff Lopey, “We continue to be concerned about the fire dangers, pollution, blight, and trash and debris encountered during our search warrant operations that reinforce the fact that most illegal cannabis cultivation sites cause environmental damage and quality of life issues for area citizens. The fire dangers are the biggest concern this time of the year, especially in view of the many fires we have battled in our county this season, such as the Klamathon, Hirz, Natchez, and Delta Fires.”
According to Lieutenant 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, most notably in public land areas where more dangerous chemicals such as Carbofuran, a banned insecticide, is frequently used primarily in in cartel-orchestrated cultivation sites (mostly USFS lands). Damage to roads is also common due to the proliferation of water trucks operated daily to provide water to areas without wells or other water sources.”
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, “It is also important to remember that the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office does not seek 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. NSMIT investigators have detected hazardous chemicals that threaten the environment in public land grows during this and previous years. 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 during 2018; however, many of their operations were curtailed by wildland fires and some cartels have moved their operations to other counties. During 2018, NSMIT conducted follow-up after a Siskiyou County resident was arrested in Arkansas, transporting 80 pounds of illegal marijuana. After search warrants were served in response to that arrest in Shasta and Siskiyou Counties, 20 pounds of illegal marijuana were recovered along with one Ruger handgun, two 25-round high capacity magazines for a Glock handgun, and ammunition. A suspect was charged with transporting marijuana out of the state for sales, ex-felon in possession of a firearm, and for being an ex-felon in possession of ammunition. Another NSMIT investigation in the Little Humbug, Punch Creek, and Middle Fork area of the county revealed illegal marijuana cultivation activities in those areas. Little Humbug was found to be contaminated with Carbofuran and dead birds were found under plants in the area.
In July 2018, NSMIT agents served a search warrant at a large parcel on Gazelle-Callahan Road. 15 active greenhouses cultivating 5,071 illegal marijuana plants were recovered at the site. The site is suspected to have been organized and operated by a drug cartel and numerous environmental crimes were detected on-site. The owner is being held responsible for clean-up of the contaminated site.
The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted 4 to 1 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 federal and state agencies has again, during 2018, increased interest in the illicit drug trade in Siskiyou County. Since the proclamation, we have received commitments for pivotal 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 support. Assistance has been provided by the California Department of Justice through the SUMIT and NSMIT drug task forces. DEA has also provided exceptional support. We are fortunate that we have 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 related to illicit drug trafficking. We are also receiving significant support from the Siskiyou County District Attorney, Kirk Andrus and his staff and the U.S. Attorney, Mr. MacGregor Scott. Some marijuana counter-drug operations were curtailed during 2018 due to the many wildland fires that have burned in various parts of the county. We also have a great partnership with Siskiyou County Public Works and the Planning Department’s Community Development Department.”
Lieutenant 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 noncannabis related such as methamphetamine, heroin or other illicit drugs are urged to contact the Siskiyou Unified Major Investigation Team (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, Behavioral Health Services (BHS) a youth anti-drug and safety program (DARE) has resumed and prevention classes have been initiated in many areas of the county. DARE is working with BHS partners to target 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. Currently, there are plans underway or projected for DARE in Hornbrook, Big Springs, Dunsmuir, McCloud, Gazelle, Fort Jones, Happy Camp, Delphic Elementary School, and Dorris. Other schools will also be programed during the current school year. Deputy Jim Jacobsen and Deputy Bob Buker, under the tutelage of veteran DARE instructor David Nye, have been tasked with handling primarily elementary schools. They have partnered with Mr. John Crovelle, BHS Substance Use Disorder Prevention Coordinator, who focuses his “Keeping it Real” and “Athletes Committed” programs in the middle and high schools of the county.
According to Sheriff Lopey, “We have a great working relationship with Siskiyou County’s Behavioral Health Services and we are working with other partners as well to develop viable prevention and treatment strategies to deal with the variety of drug-related usage and addiction challenges we face in Siskiyou County. The district attorney, courts, public defender, Community Corrections Partnership, probation, veterans’ service officer, public health, Board of Supervisors, city leaders, local law enforcement agencies, and numerous federal, state, local, public, and private organizations are working together to address addiction and dependency issues throughout the county. The drug-related problems, regardless of their nature, should be addressed with all the tools we have at our disposal, including critical prevention, enforcement, and treatment strategies. The DARE program and BHS programs primarily implemented by Mr. Crovelle, addresses our greatest concern – Our children.”