MENDOCINO Co., 7/24/19 — Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman gave an unscheduled update on the ongoing cannabis garden raids during “public expression” portion of Tuesday’s board of supervisors meeting, prior to the general meeting, recounting the number of plants cut down, the number of warrants served, and the 603 enivornmental charges to be issued — adding that the MCSO is “following the law of the land.”
Allman was followed by the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance’s Casey O’Neill, who spoke out against the raids, saying, “When militarized enforcement occurs in neighborhoods, the community feels terrorized by it — whether or not that is deemed appropriate by government, doesn’t change the fact that on the ground that people are terrified.”
The recent raids, dubbed “Operation Clean Sweep,” officially began July 15, and marks the first major cannabis eradication operation since the passage of Prop 64, which legalized recreational cannabis consumption and production in the state of California — and with multi-agency convoys and military helicopters has reminded many in the county of the old prohibition CAMP operations. A similar multi-agency enforcement effort has also been taking place in Humboldt and Trinity counties, and other parts of the state.
At the meeting Allman told the supervisors that during the “Clean Sweep” officers from three multi-agency teams have so far cut down 42,638 plants and served 28 search warrants resulting in finding 603 alleged criminal acts related to environmental degradation, to be filed with the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office. Included in the teams were MCSO deputies, wardens from the CDFW, soldiers from the California National Guard, staff from the state’s CalCannabis agency, Water Board staff, and representatives of Cal Fire.
Allman said that these recent raids are, “a very important historical mark for Mendocino and marijuana.” He noted that he is aware of community concerns but that the MCSO is following through with enforcement laid out in Prop 64. However, he added that he would address any complaints about law enforcement behavior if evidence was provided or complaints were filed.
Mendocino County residents have expressed concerns over mutli-agency enforcement over the last several months, as Blackhawk and other helicopters have been seen flying very low and hovering in the weeks prior to “Operation Clean Sweep.” Allman has said the current operation will last through this week and perhaps beyond, and is focused on unpermitted cannabis grows causing environmental degradation, particularly in the Eel River watershed.
The Mendocino Cannabis Alliance (MCA), which represents a number of cultivators currently seeking or holding cannabis permits, has issued several statements concerning the raids — and encouraged people to document any flyovers or law enforcement activity that may be questionable. Following Allman’s statements this morning, MCA policy chair and local permitted cannabis farmer, Casey O’Neill, spoke about his concerns over the effects of militarized enforcement on local communities, and called for an easier path for small cannabis farms to seek permits, especially for those who previously had been legally allowed to cultivate 25 plants in Mendocino. O’Neill also submitted an “open letter to law enforcement” he penned this week to the supervisors for consideration.
As he did prior to the supervisors’ meeting last week, Allman got up during public comment and summarized the operation, then responded to questions from supervisors — an update was not on the regularly scheduled agenda, and therefore not open to lengthy discussion or action by the supervisors, or to direct comment from the general public.
Allman said that so far during Operation Clean Sweep, 28 search warrants had been served, but an additional four were written, but not executed, in Covelo, Iron Peak, and the Woodman Creek area. The effort had utilized a total of 110 personnel (although the number varied daily), in three teams (red, white, and blue), and that each team was accompanied by MCSO deputies. He added that while no arrests had been made, some could still occur, and emphasized that per the DA’s request, MCSO was making sure all charges of environmental crimes had been fully investigated prior to filing charges.
Allman added that the number of plants on each property visited so far had varied, with the lowest number being 65, but that some parcels had had thousands of plants. He said each property visited did not have a permit, and that at least 10 environmental crimes had been found at each site — ranging from trash and fertilizer in the river, to unlawful grading of creek beds. Allman added that seven firearms had been found during the operation.
Tuesday afternoon, MCSO issued a press release stating that there were 142 violations to water quality, 197 “acts impacting water rights,” and 264 CDFW violations found, including the presence of a Foothill Yellow Legged Frog, which has been petitioned for state endangered species status, in a creek being impacted by cultivation. Allman also told the supervisors that although 32 warrants had been issued so far, CDFW had initially informed him that staff had identified a potential 2,095 sites of potential interest for enforcement in north county.
Both Allman and O’Neill highlighted the impacts of Proposition 64, which established a new system of dual permitting for California’s commercial cannabis industry, on Mendocino’s cannabis farmers, and addressed community concerns about how the operations would be managed. Allman told the supervisors that while he had been “actively against” Prop 64, he was conducting enforcement based on the new regulatory system, and that, “if people want to play by the rules, it’s time for them to understand what the rules are.” Supervisor McCowen agreed, noting, “People who are unhappy with enforcement should reread Prop 64, which said with very limited exceptions, if you’re growing cannabis, you need to have a permit locally and a license from the state.”
Allman said he had received hate mail, but he hoped that when the full environmental crimes found were made public, that those people would be, “as angry as me.” He also addressed rumors that law enforcement had trashed houses or flown low over permitted properties, saying he had not been provided any evidence, which he found notable with today’s technology, but was prepared to fully investigate if complaints were filed. He added that MCSO deputies were placed on each enforcement team and that there would be “hell to pay” if local enforcement was found acting inappropriately, and that he would also initiative an investigation into other agency staff for the same cause. He said if people are hesitant to file complaints out of fear that MCSO will contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), that, “I want to publicly say that’s not the case right now,” and that people could also send complaints to the District Attorney or the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“We want to know if our people have done anything wrong. I will stand on this firm ground right now and say our people did everything right, but if someone wants to disprove me wrong — I’ve said to you many times, I’ve been married for 35 years, I’m used to being wrong. But let me know what the facts are, and don’t make allegations and don’t throw false facts around without knowing the facts. When I get the information and it’s third hand, I’m going to tell you, I don’t put a lot of credibility into extreme stories. I think there’s some exaggerations happening.”
In his public comment following Allman, O’Neill pointed to his letter, emphasizing that he respected the difficult job of law enforcement, and appreciated Allman’s willingness to open an investigation if complaints were made. However, O’Neill underscored that the new regulations had left many Mendocino residents who had formerly grown a few dozen plants “stuck between this rock of enforcement and the hard place of nowhere to go,” saying that the new system wasn’t working.
O’Neill said he’d spoken with Governor Gavin Newsom’s office about the need for a more forgiving permit process for “the traditional small gardens,” and said he hoped the county would consider advocating for similar changes at the state level, as well as for reducing “heavy handed enforcement,” though he emphasized that he does not support environmental degradation.
To illustrate his policy point, O’Neill drew, as he often does, a comparison between his experience as a vegetable farmer and a cannabis farmer. “We have a cottage food producers permit, and we have a cottage industry permit in cannabis, but it doesn’t mean anything different,” he noted. “Cottage food producer has a significantly lower regulatory bar. Cottage cannabis producer has the same regulatory bar — we just called it a cottage!” O’Neill added he believed “For a 25 plant farmer, there is no percentage going forward at this point with the complicated regulatory structure.”
The full MCSO press release is included below. You can watch the video of Tuesday’s supervisors’ meeting here. Our previous coverage of recent cannabis enforcement can be found here. You can also listen to a special edition of the KZYX "Cannabis Hour" radio show about the raids, which includes this reporter talking with local advocates.
MEDIA ADVISORY/NEWS RELEASEMCSO press release, July 23, 2019.
DATE: "July 23, 2019"
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Operation Clean Sweep - Summary
Eel River watershed in Mendocino County
Date of Incident:
Captain Gregory L. Van Patten #1184
UPDATED PRESS RELEASE:
On 07-19-2019 Operation Clean Sweep concluded in Mendocino County and a debrief was conducted which developed the following information about the operation:
Search Warrants served:
Locations of Search Warrants:
Covelo (Round Valley), Dos Rios, Woodman Creek (Laytonville), Iron Peak Road/Simmerly Road (Laytonville)
Marijuana/Cannabis plants removed:
Independent acts of Environment based Crime(s) observed:
Independent acts impacting Water Quality:
Independent acts impacting Water Rights:
California Department of Fish & Wildlife violations observed:
Observed acts of Environmental Degradation:
Water/Stream Diversion, Water Pollution from trash, pesticides and generator fuel, Illegal Grading of land to include the unnatural damming of watersheds (streams/rivers/springs).
Significant Wildlife Impact(s):
Foothill Yellow Legged Frog was observed in a stream that was impacted by an act of Illegal damming and water diversion. In June 2017 the California Fish and Game Commission voted to make the Foothill Yellow Legged Frog a candidate species under the California Endangered Species Act.
None at this time as cases will be submitted to the Mendocino District Attorney's Office at a later date.
Mendocino County Sheriff's Office, Mendocino County Marijuana Enforcement Team (COMMET), Mendocino County Search & Rescue, Mendocino County Probation Department, Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force (MMCTF), Glenn County Narcotics Task Force, CAMP (California Campaign Against Marijuana Planting), California Department of Food and Agriculture (CalCannabis Licensing), California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California State Water Resource Board, California State Water Board, CalFire and the California Army/Air Force National Guard.
ORIGINAL PRESS RELEASE:
During the week of July 15th-19th, the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office will be collaborating with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CalCannabis Licensing), California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California State Water Resource Board, Cal Fire and the California Army National Guard to serve search warrants on public/private lands to investigate identified illegal cannabis cultivation sites.
All the sites will be those of non-permitted cannabis cultivation sites that are believed to be involved in water diversion and other situations of environmental degradation that impacts several watersheds in the greater Eel River area of Northern Mendocino County.
The collaboration includes pre-identified sites that do not have cannabis permits, state water permits for cannabis or permits from Cal Fire for deforestation and legal tree removal.
Cannabis farms that are licensed through the California Department of Food and Agriculture's CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing Division will not be the focus of this operation.
CalCannabis Licensing Inspectors will be participating in Operation Clean Sweep and have been an essential resource in the Operation's pre-identification process of the sites to be investigated.
Captain Gregory L. Van Patten #1184