Siskiyou Co., Calif. — The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office is battling illegal marijuana grows cropping up all over the county. They said it’s a problem that’s been around for decades, but has been growing over the last several years.
“The harvest season’s on… not only for them, but for us,” Sergeant Mike Gilley said.
With guns drawn, Sergeant Gilley leads a team in raids of illegal marijuana grows every week, from April until November.
“In the last couple years, this area has just exploded with gardens, it seems to be getting more and more every year,” Sgt. Gilley said. “We hit these ones and then sometimes they get replanted a week or two later.”
Keeping up is a daunting task for authorities. That’s why the sheriff’s office assembled a team, made up of the California Highway Patrol, the District Attorney’s Office, the California Army National Guard, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“We treat each one of these like a crime scene,” Sgt. Gilley said. “We’re only after the illegal sites.”
On January first in California, recreational marijuana will be legal. But these sites have much more than the six allotted plants, or the 12 allowed with a medical card.
“We’ve historically been running into 99,” Sgt. Gilley said.
That translates into nearly $350,000 when sold here on the West Coast. But Sergeant Gilley said the buds are actually going to the East Coast on the black market. One plant can be worth up to $6,500. One grow can be nearly $550,000.
“It’s pretty lucrative,” Sgt. Gilley said.
Destroying the cash crop has become a top priority for Sheriff Jon Lopey.
“It’s just an overwhelming drug trafficking problem in my county,” Sheriff Lopey said.
But Sheriff Lopey said the problems extend much more than just an illegal drug trade.
“Public health and safety is threatened,” Sheriff Lopey said. “And certainly we have blight and damage to our environment that is irreparable.”
The Sheriff’s Office estimates illegal grows on privately owned land in the county are using around three million gallons of water a day. The team also finds dangerous fertilizers and pesticides that they say are seeping into the ground.
“You get insecticides like carbofuran, which is so deadly, about a teaspoon will probably kill a bear,” Sheriff Lopey said.
Recently, at Sheriff Lopey’s suggestion, the board of supervisors approved a proclamation declaring a state of emergency in Siskiyou County. If signed by Governor Jerry Brown, it would increase the resources available to the Sheriff’s Office. It has yet to be approved.
Regardless, Sheriff Lopey said the fight isn’t over, and his motivation to keep going is strong.
“I don’t want to be a base of operations for illicit drug trafficking, cartels, or consortiums, or syndicates providing illegal marijuana to other states in the United States of America,” Sheriff Lopey said.
The team will continue serving search warrants through the end of November, and clear out illegal grows. Sheriff Lopey said the county will continue to work with the DEA, and other agencies to combat the drug trafficking.
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