Marijuana Raid in Emerald Triangle Focuses on Environmental ‘Crimes’

Citing allegations of water theft and environmental damage including pesticide run-off, local authorities conducted a coordinated early morning marijuana raid in three adjacent California counties on Monday, June 22, 2015. A press release from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office explained the reasons for the raid included suspected “situations of water diversion, water theft and environmental degradation.”

The initiative was led by county police in each jurisdiction as well as authorities representing county and state agencies, including emergency management.

The convergence of the raid in such a strategic plot of land—ostensibly under local command and for such reasons—has sparked outrage from reform proponents. The area is known as Island Mountain and is located in the so-called “Emerald Triangle” where Humbolt, Mendocino and Trinity counties meet. As such, it has a long and established history of semi-commercial, gray-market marijuana growing. Further, it is also an area much targeted by federal law enforcement marijuana eradication efforts when the DEA was still funded to enforce federal law over state when it came to marijuana matters.

The dawn raid was expected to yield as many as 100,000 plants according to coverage by the local press at the scene.

While this was clearly a good excuse for the raid given current state and federal water restrictions—now in effect for even non cannabinoid-oriented commercial farmers via state law and issued specifically against marijuana growers by federal agencies—local legalization advocates immediately cried foul.

Apart from official reasons, it appears that this raid may have targeted a group of growers currently engaged in creating guidelines for the increasingly legitimate and regulated industry in California. More than a few of the growers targeted in the raid are also members of the political action group California Cannabis Voice-Humboldt, as confirmed by the group’s executive director Richard Marks.

Marks described CCVH as a group organizing for better oversight and regulation of a booming commercial, and probably state legal recreational, industry post-2016. The ordinance the group had been working on for more than a year to regulate outdoor cultivation has already gone through several drafts before the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors. There is even a menu choice on the group’s website for the community to further submit comment on the draft legislation.

What is making local organizers even more nervous is that the raid occurred a little more than a year after the federal House of Representatives first voted to defund such initiatives when organized under the aegis of the Drug Enforcement Agency. It is clear to many that coordinated state task forces, with motives related to criminal issues or not, are continuing to be a risk of doing business in the marijuana industry, both in California and beyond. Locally the raid appears to have been funded in part by money from a state “Environmental Protection” budget that increased almost 15 percent last year.

For this reason, local advocates who are also growers are reassessing both future business prospects as well as their political activism on the topic. In comments to the local press, Marks expressed how uneasy group members are. “Nobody knows what criteria [the police] are going after,” he said, as he also questioned where the funding for the raid came from. “If this is coming from county coffers, with overtime, I’m just a little bit disappointed that that’s their use of money,” he added.

Marks also stated that he believed the raid could have a chilling effect on the willingness of local leaders to continue to work on further regulation and oversight initiatives. “You have to remember, [group members] came out of the shadows because they thought this process would protect them,” he said. “And, well, it didn’t.”

Members of other local political groups associated with legalization in neighboring counties, including the Emerald Growers Association, took to Twitter to defend themselves and protest the raid.

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