YREKA, Calif. — Sheriff Jon Lopey spoke at the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday morning, advocating for a renewed declaration of emergency as law enforcement continues to struggle with proliferating illegal marijuana grows.
Though the state of California legalized the use, sale, and growth of cannabis, Siskiyou County has maintained local ordinances that make the commercial cultivation of cannabis — medical or recreational — illegal throughout the county. Residents are allowed to grow indoors only the 6 or 12 plants allotted for individuals for recreational or medical purposes, respectively.
Nonetheless, Siskiyou County remains an incredibly popular spot for large marijuana grow sites — all of them illegal under the county ordinance, with product inevitably bound for black market sale.
"Intelligence is telling us that most of this marijuana is being transported out of state to be sold in other states and other communities. So we're taking it very seriously," Lopey told NewsWatch 12 during a marijuana bust last July.
According to Sheriff Lopey, law enforcement seized and destroyed almost 62,000 marijuana plants in 2019 alone — more than double the amount seized in 2018 — in addition to almost 18,000 pounds of processed marijuana. The value of those plants, based on "East Coast retail" prices, would have been worth hundreds of millions in dollars.
These black market grow busts have resulted in more than 70 arrests, citations, or pending cases over the past year.
"A lot of the sites not only do they have illegal marijuana, but there are a lot of quality of life issues," Lopey told NewsWatch 12 in July. "I haven't seen the illicit drug use and addiction this bad since I first got into law enforcement in the '70s."
Siskiyou County has been under a local state of emergency for illegal marijuana every year since 2017, but pleas to have the Governor's Office make a similar declaration have fallen on deaf ears for just as long.
With Tuesday's meeting, the County is once again asking Governor Newsom to follow its lead. With an official state of emergency declaration from the Governor, Siskiyou County would become eligible for additional public safety resources and funding — helping them recover from what they call an "ongoing disaster."
"It's no different than a raging forest fire," Lopey said on Tuesday. "The marijuana is creating overwhelming and catastrophic health-related issues, social issues . . . certainly it's straining the justice system, because crime is associated with it, and it's a big danger to our environment."
The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, at least, signalled its total agreement with Sheriff Lopey's assessment, extending the local state of emergency through 2020.
According to the Sheriff's Office, there are still an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 illegal marijuana cultivation sites operating within the county.