Jon Lopey, Siskiyou County Sheriff, requested the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors declares a local emergency over the illegal marijuana cultivation. He made the request on Tuesday afternoon, during an hours-long discussion at the Siskiyou County Courthouse in Yreka. The afternoon meeting attracted numerous people, who filled the supervisor’s chambers near to bursting.
The goal of the meeting was for the board to make a decision about whether to proclaim the problem of illegal cultivators beyond the control of local authorities. Lopey was the first to speak. He stated the proclamation a necessary one due to a large number of illegal cultivation sites uncovered throughout the county. He brought up the risks these sites pose to life quality, environment, and public safety.
Lopey backed up his concerns with several potential hazards, including incorrect waste storage, illegal pesticide use, lack of habitable living quarters, and other problems that may arise at an illegal cultivation site. He posited that the proclamation could pave the way for new possibilities to use state and federal resources to help the county address illicit grow operations.
The Sheriff stressed that the proclamation’s focus is on those cultivating marijuana illegally. He clearly stated that those using medical or recreational marijuana are not the target, provided they do so within the confines of the law. After Lopey’s statement, the board allowed public comment, which attracted testimony from various constituents, including those supportive of and opposed to the proclamation.
Most of the speakers, many of whom claimed Hmong descent, were against the proclamation, citing fears that it would encourage federal authorities to raid their private properties and invade the county. Many shared their personal histories, including how the Vietnam War affected themselves and their families and how their experiences shape their expectations of life and welcome in America.
There were many personal stories. One man said that, at 10-years old, he had to fight the spread of communism in Vietnam. Another helped the Central Intelligence Agency to block the Ho Chi Minh Trail and rescue American bomber pilots. Many of those sharing their personal war stories said they wanted the county, and America at large, to love them the same way they loved the country.
The conversation touched on several issues surrounding the struggles of the Hmong community, both in the country and outside of it. Many speakers urged the board not to use the actions of a few to label their entire community drug dealers. Most expressed strong opposition to the proclamation, yet many residents surrounded by large numbers of illicit grow sites showed support for it.
According to Sheriff Lopey, the proclamation would assist the county in leveraging resources from both state and federal governments in an effort to respond to the estimated 2,000 illegal grow sites spread across the county, including in such subdivisions as Mount Shasta Vista, Mount Shasta Forest, and the Klamath River Country Estate areas.
Many citizens spoke during the meeting’s public commentary, broaching a wide variety of topics. Most speakers identified as Hmong community members, urging the board to reject the proclamation. They reiterated their fears that it would lead to federal agents raiding their private property, regardless of whether they were cultivating within the county’s ordinances or not.
The speakers highlighted various themes consistently, including respecting their Constitutional rights, such as the right to privacy on private property, and attempts to get the board to understand their need to treat various maladies by cultivating cannabis. Some indicated they were using marijuana to relieve surgical pain, and one noted that many Hmong users are treating PTSD from their Vietnam War horrors.
Many commentators explained that they lost family members to the war and the communist regime that took over their country afterward, with many saying that they themselves had been part of the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret Laos war during the Vietnam conflict. They invited people to get to know the Hmong community.
They argued that law enforcement must be able to differentiate between properties cultivating weed illegally, and those who operate within the county’s ordinances or who do not grow at all. Some Hmong members expressed fear over the potential actions of law enforcement, while many said they support all efforts to stop illegal cultivation, including Lopey’s proclamation initiative.
Those in favor of the proclamation raised various concerns, one being the condition of properties both during and after the growing season. Echoing the proclamation’s own issues, many worries about the impact illegal grow sites have on property values. Many old sites are now trash dumps. Others worry about free-roaming dogs, claiming intimidation by those not wanting people near their properties.
Supportive speakers, including Lopey, believe that no one growing within the marijuana laws of the county should fear enforcement efforts, and many reiterated that, if Hmong community members want the county to welcome them, they must then abide by the laws of the county. The comment period became an hours long back-and-forth, with later speakers answering questions from earlier speakers.
For example, in response to an earlier question about why the Hmong community does not have kids on their properties if they want the community to accept them, Hmong members answered by noting that most of them are in retirement with children who have now entered college or no longer live at home. It seems that there are notable misunderstandings between the Hmong community and the wider public.
One Hmong speaker said that some community members had been deliberately deceived into believing that the law did not allow them to have children on land that they purchase, even for those with long-established homes. Such miscommunication between the various groups was major theme throughout the discussion, as well as education about the different laws at play.
Mouying Lee, who has for several years been at the forefront of discussions about cannabis cultivation in Siskiyou, told everyone present that he has a difficult time explaining to many community members that even if a doctor recommends growing the state limit of 99 plants, local counties have their own limitations, such as the 12-plant cap in Siskiyou County.
Lee asked both Lopey and the board to increase education efforts for the Hmong community, even suggesting the provision of brochures in their native language. Many had to rely on a translator during the meeting, and Lee believes that explaining the laws in the Hmong language will be highly effective at reducing the number of sites growing more than the allocated limit.
Perhaps the most significant theme to come out of the meeting is a desire for all the various communities to open communication lines and deal with the heart of these issues. Lopey and board members said that they would be willing to hold more meetings in the town hall to help everybody understand the county’s laws and regulations.
Lopey made it very clear that the emergency proclamation does not intend targeting specific communities, but that it is ultimately a response to illegal grows that are proving beyond the county’s ability to address. He also shared a few military stories of his own, including the time he spent defending people of differing cultures overseas, and his sworn promise to protect the peoples of Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and other Asian nations.
Lopey also touched on some of the attacks on his person and department, noting that some are calling him a terrorist and a thief. Some are accusing him of harassing the Hmong community, and he argues that both he and his department want fairness and justice for all. He said, “We welcome all people to our county, but I ask one thing: They know the law and everyone should follow the law.”
At the end of the public’s period for comment, the board opened its discussion. Every supervisor showed support for the initiative, bringing to everyone’s attention the dangers posed by illegal cultivation, from increased fire risk from outdoor cooking to illegal use of pesticides. Lisa Dixon, District 4 Supervisor, asked Hmong community members for help explaining what the law is and how to abide by it.
Supervisors Ray Haupt and Michael Kobseff both said that they favor the proclamation as a means to protect both the public and marijuana growers, who are at increased risk cooking on campfires in dry conditions and living in non-permitted housing. At voting time, they unanimously agreed on the need to proclaim a local emergency.
Ed Valenzuela, District 2 Supervisor, closed the meeting by calling for continued communication and outreach efforts to bring the county and its constituents together and working toward a shared goal.