On September 29, 2021, California State Senator Mike McGuire announced via Twitter that the State of California will be providing $1.5 million in funds to the Emerald Counties to “develop a three county regional enforcement campaign to help shut down the worst of the worst illegal cannabis growing operations.”
We spoke with Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall, Trinity County Sheriff Tim Saxon, and Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Samantha Karges who talked with us on behalf of Sheriff Billy Honsal about how these funds will bolster their collective fight against illegal cannabis farms.
Senator McGuire said those enforcement campaigns will focus on “illegal water diversions, operations threatening endangered fish species, environmental degradation, or the presence of organized crime.”
Regarding legacy farmers and small family farmers, Senator McGuire emphasized that “at no time will those who are currently working through the permitting process or those who are already permitted be the focus of the campaign.”
This funding and initiative were designed to “help support those farmers who are and have been doing the right thing” by working to “prop up the regulated market and, in particular, help make our communities safer,” Senator McGuire explained.
Both Sheriff Kendall and Sheriff Saxon agreed that the promised $1.5 million is not an enormous amount of money.
Sheriff Saxon said those funds are “a starting point to address funding shortages that the three of us have been dealing with related to this criminal concern.”
Karges said these incoming funds are “earmarked by the state to cover staffing costs for cannabis enforcement.”
“Trinity County will use these funds to support overtime and per diem costs associated with joint operations with Humboldt and Mendocino Counties to address illegal, unpermitted cannabis operations,” Sheriff Saxon told us.
Sheriff Kendall also described the funds going towards the staffing of cannabis enforcement operations but expressed concern that the current staffing shortage at MCSO could limit the results of the funding. “If we don’t get some personnel, the funding is going to be a moot point,” he told us.
This funding, according to Sheriff Saxon, represents that the “increase in criminal activity associated with illegal cannabis operations in Trinity, Humboldt, and Mendocino have been recognized by the Sheriffs in these Counties for years and their voices have finally been heard.”
He expressed appreciation for Senator McGuire having “listened and supported this funding.”
Sheriff Saxon also saw the funding as an outgrowth of the State of California’s move into the legal cannabis market. “As the State focuses more heavily on the legal cannabis market, it’s important to recognize that illegal operations must be sufficiently addressed to allow that legal market to survive,” he explained.
Karges also was appreciative of Senator McGuire’s advocacy for the Emerald Counties and his recognition of the serious environmental damage being done to the North Coast at the “hands of illegal cannabis cultivators.”
“Just this year, our Marijuana Enforcement Team has observed and documented numerous heinous environmental violations,” Kargas told us. “These violations, coupled with an extreme drought, are devastating our local watersheds.”
Sheriff Matt Kendall said the funding shows that “Senator McGuire is listening to the problems such as numerous homicides, cartel style murders, the problems associated with inner-city or trans-national gangs that have been imported into our rural counties where we have very limited personnel to deal with them.”
As to the common characteristics of the illegal cannabis operations found in the Emerald Triangle, all three pointed to illegal water diversions, pesticides, hazardous waste compromising the health of local wildlife, and illegal poaching.
Sheriff Kendall painted a grim picture of the Mendocino County illegal cannabis culture describing it as “cartel members making [money] hand over fist taking over this county. When people step out of line, they are met with extreme violence.”
“The old mom and pop hippies are packing up and moving because it has become too dangerous to live where they’ve always lived,” Sheriff Kendall said.
He described an illegal cannabis operation MCSO busted in Willits where they found 24 Hmong laborers living in “deplorable conditions.”
All three emphasized this funding will strengthen the long-lasting collaboration between the Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity County Sheriff’s Offices to fight these illegal cannabis operations.
Sheriff Saxon said past joint operations have been “limited due to our individual budget constraints for overtime and per diem due to the distances our various staff needs to travel to participate.”
“Our counties are connected from the standpoint that we are rural in nature and we have limited resources,” Sheriff Saxon said and this “new funding stream will be a force-multiplier in helping us increase our efforts. He hopes “that this funding gives us additional opportunities to expand our efforts to work together to reduce the increasing violence and help protect our environment from further damage.”
Karges said HCSO’s Marijuana Enforcement Team has been collaborating with “our neighbors in Mendocino and Trinity for some time” and these funds will “strengthen that support between the three counties, opening up opportunities for more resources to address this issue.”
Sheriff Kendall emphasized that staffing shortages could curtail the efficacy of cannabis enforcement regardless of state funding. He said he would be working with the State of California’s Department of Cannabis Control enforcement department to “get personnel up here as a force multipliers to support our efforts in the Emerald Triangle. If they want [to erradicate] big numbers of illegal plants, come to Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity County”
Senator McGuire said on Twitter he was “grateful for the partnership of Sheriff Saxon, Sheriff Honsal, [and] Sheriff Kendall” and saw this funding as a “critical first step – just the beginning of the investment.”