The largest law enforcement operation against Humboldt County marijuana growers of the year was underway just a day after summer began.
Officers from the Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity county sheriff's offices descended on Island Mountain, a remote region at the convergence of the three counties where marijuana growers have operated for decades, serving search warrants and taking down approximately 8,000 plants at three or four sites on Monday, June 22.
Humboldt County Sheriff's Lt. Wayne Hanson said the operation would likely continue through the week, though he declined to say how many search warrants would be served in total. Agents from California Fish and Wildlife and the regional water board visited the sites as well. As of press time, Hanson said no one had been arrested and no "critical incidents" had taken place.
News of the raid reverberated through southeastern Humboldt as large convoys were spotted heading out on rural roads, and California Cannabis Voice Humboldt Executive Director Richard Marks confirmed on Tuesday morning that members of his organization were among those targeted in the raids. CCVH, as the Journal has reported, is a political action committee that's been attempting to bring growers out of the shadows and influence local and statewide marijuana legislation. The group hosted Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom at a marijuana farm last month and has been working on a proposed ordinance for outdoor cultivation in Humboldt County that received the ire of environmental groups.
Marks said some of the CCVH's large financial donors were the recipients of Monday's search warrants, but he declined to say who.
Marks said the raids were "totally unexpected," and that he was frustrated by news that CCVH members were being investigated. "I don't understand the timing," he said. "They're going after — in this case — private landowners. We've already said we're against trespass grows. Why aren't they going after the cartel grows?"
Hanson said the Island Mountain area was selected because of citizen complaints and sheriff's office observations of the area from helicopter flyovers. He said the sites were commercial marijuana greenhouses that caused environmental damage and were likely sources of illegal water diversion. "There's issues like this in all four corners of Humboldt County," he said, adding that the operation is no different than busts the sheriff's office has been running for 30 years, and that the county's eradication efforts will continue through 2015.
Marks all but suggested that the CCVH members served in the raids were unfairly targeted, saying he had thought law enforcement had sharpened its focus on grows with illegal grading, pollution, water diversion and other environmental degradations, sites where "we're happy that law enforcement would go after them." But, he said, "To go after private owners who are trying to comply — it just seems counterproductive."
Marks, addressing rumors, said it was unclear if law enforcement targeted CCVH members for their involvement in the organization. "I sure hope not," he said. "But then the other part of me says, [police] know who they are."
Hezekiah Allen, the executive director of the Emerald Growers Association, expressed concerns in a press release issued the day after the raids began.
"Today, [law enforcement] activity is ever more concerning because so many of our community members have courageously stepped forward and publicly proclaimed themselves farmers. They are seeking regulation, seeking increased collaboration with government agencies and research institutions."
Marks echoed that sentiment.
"CCVH is quite concerned," he said. "We're trying to do something positive for the community. I sure hope this doesn't harm the organization. I suppose it already has. It's put people behind the shadows again."