Sheriff’s Office & Allied-Agency Partners Seize 1,237 Illicit Marijuana Plants
May 7, 2020
“Counter-drug operations in Mt. Shasta Vista first in a series of planned drug raids”
On Tuesday morning, May 5, 2020, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office (SCS0) in partnership with the North State Major Investigation Team (NSMIT) conducted two counter-drug raids in the Mt. Shasta Vista area of Siskiyou County, netting a combined total of 1,237 illegal marijuana plants and starter clones. The counter-drug search warrant operations were conducted on Mildred Drive, a remote location of the county located approximately 27 miles southeast of Yreka. The first search warrant operation involved a search of two greenhouses at the Mildred Drive location. One greenhouse was inactive but the other yielded 590 illegal marijuana plants and 104 starter clones were found nearby. Sewage from a nearby trailer was leaking into the soil and one suspect was detained.
The second parcel on Mildred Drive involved two greenhouses both of which contained illegal marijuana plants. That parcel and its greenhouses yielded 352 growing marijuana plants and 191 starter clone plants. No one was located at the second location. A man was detained at the first location and he was cited and released for illegal marijuana cultivation offenses. It is anticipated that environmental crimes will also be filed against the property owners involved in the illegal drug trafficking operations.
SCSO’s Siskiyou Interagency Marijuana Investigation Team (SIMIT) is a drug task force that primarily enforces current county ordinances and state law that relates to illicit marijuana drug trafficking on private property areas of the county. NSMIT is a drug task force that is led by the California Department of Justice (CA DOJ) and its orientation is regional in nature but the team spends time in Siskiyou County, enforcing drug laws, including illegal marijuana violations in public land and private land areas of the county. A plan is being coordinated with DOJ and the Director, Central Valley High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), which will designate agents formerly assigned to the now defunded Siskiyou Unified Major Investigation Team (SUMIT) to incorporate with NSMIT. NSMIT is a multi-disciplinary team comprised of federal, state, and local detectives and agents, which focuses on a variety of major crimes, hard drug offenses, and illicit drug trafficking involving marijuana in private and public land areas of the region. The NSMIT-SUMIT consolidation, when complete, will address illicit drug challenges in the region and county that involve methamphetamine, opioids like heroin, fentanyl and narcotic analgesics, along with other illegal drugs such as cocaine, designer drugs, and illegal prescription drug activities. It is anticipated the new consolidation will involve the assignment of assets from SCSO, Yreka Police Department, California Highway Patrol, and the Siskiyou County Probation Department. NSMIT also receives support from the United States Forest Service, Etna Police Department, United States Bureau of Land Management, CA DOJ, and invaluable support is received from the California Army and Air National Guard’s Counter-Drug Unit. NSMIT is a HIDTA drug task force, which corresponds to Siskiyou County’s designation as a HIDTA county, since it is recognized the county is overwhelmed by illicit drug challenges and illegal trafficking operations within its borders and traversing its major highways such as Interstate 5, US 97, SR 89, and SR 96. Siskiyou County was designated a HIDTA county several years ago by the United States Department of Justice at the request of SCSO’s management team. Siskiyou County is a member of the Central Valley HIDTA since many drug trafficking networks in the region have links to areas in the Central Valley of California, such as Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tulare, Siskiyou, and Trinity Counties.
During 2019, SIMIT, the SCSO drug task force unit working to eradicate numerous illegal marijuana cultivation sites on a variety of private property parcels in many parts of the county, had a very busy year and nearly doubled their seizures from the previous year. During 2019, SIMIT detectives served 154 search warrants throughout the county. SIMIT seized 44,369 illegal marijuana plants and confiscated 16,759.5 pounds of processed marijuana. Nine arrests, 10 citations, and 15 firearms were seized. $29,596.00 in drug currency was seized. During routine traffic stops, mostly near the end of the marijuana harvest season, SCSO deputies seized 63 illicit plants and 2,074.4 pounds of processed or partially-processed marijuana from vehicles during those traffic stops, in addition to the SIMIT seizures aforementioned.
During 2019, NSMIT enforcement totals included the seizure of 17,230 illicit marijuana plants and the confiscation of 1,044 pounds of processed marijuana. NSMIT made eight arrests and seized three firearms. NSMIT includes a long-serving SCSO detective sergeant and other federal, state, and local agency participants.
Combining the SIMIT and NSMIT seizure totals for Siskiyou County, there were 61,599 illicit marijuana plants seized and 17,763.5 pounds of processed marijuana confiscated during their operations in various parts of the county.
Estimated values of the illicit marijuana seized in the county by SIMIT and NSMIT, using East Coast retail drug values, based on an average 3-pound-plant-yield in the county, totals $369,594,000.00 to $554,391,000.00 for the illegal marijuana plants. For the seized processed marijuana, based on estimated East Coast retail drug values ($2,000 to 3,000 per pound price, which can be lower or higher, depending on the location), ranged from $35,527,000.00 to $53,290,500.00. Total value of the illicit marijuana seized in Siskiyou County by SIMIT and NSMIT (illegal plants and processed marijuana) ranges from $405 million to $607.7 million.
What differentiates 2019 marijuana enforcement with previous years is the link the marijuana drug trade has to felonious assaults and murders in Siskiyou County. During a 2019 SIMIT drug raid a suspect was arrested for an outstanding murder arrest warrant and another man was arrested for a major felony assault arrest warrant from another state, while serving a search warrant in the Mt. Shasta Vista area of the county. That murder suspect, hiding out with relatives in Siskiyou County, allegedly committed a murder at a marijuana-related site in Sacramento County, which precipitated the arrest warrant and a collaborative effort between SCSO and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office. In Siskiyou County, which had five homicides recorded during 2019, SCSO saw a troubling trend that linked marijuana operations directly or indirectly to a murder that occurred in February 2019 and a double homicide that occurred in March 2019. The double homicide of two women at a marijuana site in the Pleasant Valley Highland Estates of Butte Valley is particularly troubling. Another attempted murder case involving a “shots fired” call at another marijuana cultivation site in Mt. Shasta Vista involving a man and his spouse, with four children present, was also investigated by SCSO during 2019.
The 154 SIMIT search warrants and additional search warrants and seizures from NSMIT disrupted numerous illegal drug trafficking operations as evidenced by the fact the thousands of plants seized were high-yield plants and the processed marijuana far exceeded any reasonable amount even remotely justified for medicinal or recreational use and were recovered in amounts and often in packaging configurations that obviously indicated the illicit product was destined to the illegal marijuana drug black market. Additional tools of the drug trade were confiscated during some drug raids, including a money counter, vacuum sealers for packing the illegal marijuana for transportation and sales, digital scales, and similar items typically used by drug traffickers.
During 2019, which will continue during 2020, Siskiyou County Public Works road crews provided invaluable assistance, especially near the end of the harvest season, since marijuana plants are large, cumbersome, and difficult to eradicate due to their size and mature weight. Siskiyou County Planning Department code enforcement officers were helpful on some operations by citing offenders for quality of life issues related to sewage, lack of wells, refuse, and illegal building structures, which are common in the impacted areas. During 2020, this will be an important element of the county’s strategy to deal with the illegal marijuana and quality of life issues evident in many parts of the county. Occasionally, assistance and support were received and will be anticipated during 2020 from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, especially when watersheds were threatened by illicit marijuana cultivation sites.
SCSO has been heavily involved in drug prevention in partnership with Behavioral Health Services, which helps fund the DARE (Drug Awareness Resistance Education) Program in Siskiyou County schools. The primary instructor, Reserve Deputy Jim Jacobsen was recently commended for effectively teaching DARE classes at 16 county schools, which involved the education of 1,213 students. Overwhelming support has been experienced from parents, teachers, school administrators, and students and others affiliated with the schools and students. The new DARE program is an evidence-based curriculum that includes problem-solving exercises and safe habits, including but not limited to avoidance of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco products, preventing and responding to bullying, gun safety, reacting to stranger danger, and related topics.
Siskiyou County officials have enacted an ordinance that prohibits all outdoor marijuana cultivation in county areas and growers are limited to 12-plants inside an approved structure, for medical marijuana. Recreational marijuana possession on private property, pursuant to Prop 64, is limited to six marijuana plants, per parcel, which may be grown in a residence or other approved, enclosed structure.
The proliferation of illicit marijuana cultivation sites has endangered people, harmed the environment, and promoted a major interstate drug trafficking industry originating from within the county. Dangers associated with the proliferation of marijuana have proven to be particularly harmful to children and the environment. On January 7, 2020, during their regularly-scheduled meeting, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted to approve a new “Local State of Emergency” because of the numerous and potentially devastating impacts that illicit marijuana cultivation sites and illicit, organized drug trafficking organizations are exacting on the county and its citizenry, including critical public health, social welfare, justice, and environmental clean-up challenges.
Marijuana-related activities have been linked to other deaths as well, including carbon monoxide poisonings, suicides, and traffic fatalities within the county. Fire dangers are also very evident in most of these illegal grow sites. Illegal marijuana cultivation sites use significant amounts of water and it is estimated approximately 2.5 to 3-million gallons of water a day are being used to grow illegal cannabis products on private property in the county. Public land consumption of water could be higher, although the trend this year indicates many cartels and organized marijuana purveyors are moving from public to private lands.
According to Sheriff Jon Lopey, “Based on this week’s counter-drug operation, we anticipate a very busy 2020. Our partnership with federal, state, and local partners, will be crucial throughout the year to mitigate the major illicit marijuana drug trafficking problem we have in Siskiyou County. The latest operation in Mt. Shasta Vista yielded positive results and more importantly, no one was hurt during the operation. Our 2019 enforcement totals and our observations thus far this year once again provide convincing evidence of a multi-million-dollar illegal drug trafficking industry operating in Siskiyou County, the region, and state. The seizures clearly substantiate the intent of local illegal drug producers to deliberately violate state, federal, and county laws and/or ordinance provisions. We will do all we can to prevent this take-over and exploitation of our county, land, water, and people.”
SCSO has received invaluable assistance and support from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which has provided most of the funding for the department’s counter-drug operations through DCESP (Domestic Cannabis Eradication Support Program). A recent briefing to DEA officials from Washington DC at the Yreka SCSO Headquarters, on December 4, 2019, resulted in a tentative commitment from DEA to provide additional funds to SCSO for marijuana enforcement efforts during 2020, which relieves the county of expending precious fiscal resources for this purpose.
Anyone with information about illegal marijuana cultivation operations in their county neighborhoods or the cases subject to these recent counter-drug operations is urged to contact the SCSO’s 24-hour Dispatch Center at (530) 841-2900. Complaints concerning “quality of life” issues such as building, water, sewage, or refuse may be directed to the Siskiyou County Community Development office at (530) 841-2100.
One of the greenhouses subjected to search warrant operation in Mt. Shasta Vista on May 5