The remote town of Hayfork in the foothills of Northern California’s Trinity Alps woke to an unpleasant surprise the morning of June 25, with three big helicopters landed at the local airfield and a convoy of some 15 police and military-style vehicles spotted on a local road.
To residents’ outrage, it turned out to be a cannabis eradication mission involving the National Guard, as well as state police, U.S. Forest Service enforcement agents, and Trinity County deputies.
The situation stirred unpleasant memories, as Trinity County had seen many such militarized operations back in the days of cannabis prohibition and the now-defunct Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP).
Over the following days, some 15 warrants were executed in Hayfork and environs.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife information officer Janice Mackey told Redheaded Blackbelt, a news site that closely covers the Emerald Triangle: “The operations yielded an estimated 12,548 illegal marijuana plants, 801 pounds of processed marijuana, 15 firearms and $435,875 in U.S. currency… 23 suspects were detained during the operation. Charges will be filed with the Trinity County District Attorney’s office for consideration.”
Mackey said that “records checks confirmed that none of the parcels were permitted by the county, nor were they licensed by the state for commercial cannabis cultivation.” She added that several game and water violations were documented in the raids, asserting that “[s]ites were selected based on their potential threat to the environment not plant count.”
She also stated that “the eradicated marijuana was destroyed under the guidelines of HS code 11479… at a confidential location.” That’s the provision of the state Health & Safety Code allowing eradication of confiscated controlled substances by law enforcement.
The convoy was apparently made up of vehicles from the sheriff’s office, CDFW and the U.S. Forest Service. The Shasta-Trinity National Forest controls much land in the area. The choppers were likely from the California National Guard. One witness was quoted in an earlier report on Redheaded Blackbelt describing the “[b]iggest helicopter I ever seen.” He also reported seeing a large military-type truck at the airport.
A CDFW press release on June 21 also noted raids carried out earlier in the month in both Trinity and Shasta counties, netting some 10,000 plants and three arrests. The press release said that “commercial cannabis cultivation is prohibited” in Shasta County, which borders Trinity on the east. In fact, as the 2017 county ordinance makes clear, this only applies to unincorporated areas of the county; Redding and other municipalities within Shasta County do indeed allow commercial cultivation.
“Illegal marijuana cultivation has no place in today’s regulated cannabis market,” said David Bess, chief of the CDFW Law Enforcement Division. “Individuals who destroy our environment and continue to cultivate illegally produced marijuana will be held accountable.”
From the Emerald Triangle to the Inland Empire
There has been a lot of this sort of thing going on statewide in recent weeks — and not only in the Emerald Triangle. Simultaneous with the Trinity operation, National Guard troops were sent in to aid Santa Barbara sheriff’s deputies in a series of raids near the town of Buelton, seizing 20 tons of harvested cannabis and some 350,000 plants. In the first week of June, National Guard troops backed up more than “700 officials from about two dozen state and federal law enforcement agencies” in seizing over 140,000 plants in Southern California’s Riverside County. In late May and early June, Guard troops joined operations across Siskiyou County, which borders Trinity on the north, confiscating nearly 20,000 plants.
The statewide raids also come as California authorities have launched a new campaign targeting the illicit cannabis market, dubbed “Get #weedwise.” Overseen by the Bureau of Cannabis Control, the three-year, $1.7 million campaign officially kicked off June 21, urging consumers to verify that their cannabis is produced legally and warning unlicensed growers that their days are numbered.
Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this year announced plans to send the state’s National Guard north to join in the crackdown on unlicensed growers, pulling them out of enforcement along the Mexican border. Newsom said troops will be “redeploying up north to go after all these illegal cannabis farms, many of which are run by the cartels that are devastating our pristine forests and increasingly themselves becoming fire hazards.” And just over a year ago, then-Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled a special investigative force to go after unregistered cannabis growers.
The ecological tolls of unregulated cannabis cultivation are a very real problem. But advocates have pointed to burdensome regulations that provide a disincentive for small growers to come in from the cold.
TELL US, how do you think illegal grows should be policed?