Withholding Water is the New Racism in Siskiyou County

siskiyou county hmong racism

Racism takes on many behaviors. A new behavior has crept into the conservative mindset of late and that is the attempt to withhold water. https://www.newsweek.com/lindsey-graham-slams-georgia-ban-handing-voters-water-doesnt-make-whole-lot-sense-1579325

But this article is not about voting rights in Georgia although ‘un-great’ minds probably think alike. This article is about the withholding of water in a remote county in California from a minority group of citizens most of us probably never heard of nor would ever except when such an egregious form of torment is imposed upon the group.

The county in question is Siskiyou County and the people who are being deprived of water are the Hmong. In Georgia it’s African Americans who are exercising their right to vote. In Siskiyou County it’s Asian Americans who are trying to simply water their crops, allow their animals to drink, and I would venture to say have water to drink themselves. Water is “vital for all known forms of  life”.

So what is going on in this very northernmost county in California with this particular group of Asian Americans known as the Hmong who are now protesting and have added to the mounting “lives matter” movement with signs resounding “Asian Lives Matter”?

“To try to stop the cultivation of illegal marijuana, the county has taken steps and passed a series of new emergency ordinances that are now causing ripple effects through the county, impacting land owners and growers that are legal in certain areas.”

“At the beginning of May, there was a large protest outside the Siskiyou County Superior Court in Yreka. The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted to approve and immediately enact two emergency ordinances, with a goal of stopping water usage at illegal marijuana farms.”

Huh? What are these ordinances? Illegal weed? Isn’t weed legal in California? 

Let’s take this one question at a time.

Let’s start with cannabis and whether it’s legal or not in Siskiyou County.

CULTIVATION BANNED
Ordinance No. 17-11: AN INTERIM ZONING/URGENCY ORDINANCE OF THE COUNTY OF SISKIYOU ESTABLISHING A MORATORIUM ON COMMERICAL CANNABIS ACTIVITIES (BOTH MEDICAL AND NON-MEDICAL) IN ALL UNINCORPORATED TERRITORY OF THE COUNTY OF SISKIYOU, DECLARING ITS URGENCY, AND THAT THIS ORDINANCE SHALL TAKE IMMEDIATE EFFECT.
Sect. 5 – Exemptions 
(A) This ordinance shall not prohibit the transportation of cannabis or cannabis products on public roads by a licensee transporting cannabis or cannabis products through the jurisdictional limits of the unincorporated area of the County in compliance with state law.
(B) This ordinance shall not prohibit any Commerical Cannabis Activity that the County is required by law to allow within its jurisdiction pursuant to MAUCRSA.
Chapter 14 – PERSONAL CULTIVATION 10-14.015 – Local Licensing
(A) This chapter establishes criteria and standards for personal, noncommercial, cannabis cultivation for medicinal or adult use to the extent authorized by state law. Personal cultivation in strict compliance with both this chapter and state law does not require a local license within the unincorporated area of the County.
(B) The County shall not issue any license allowing mobile delivery of marijuana, and mobile delivery of marijuana is hereby prohibited as provided in Business and Professions Code section 19340.
(Ord. No. 15-18, § II, 12-8-2015; Ord. No. 17-14, § III, 12-5-2017)
10-14.030 – Nuisance Declared
(A) The cultivation of marijuana on any premises in violation of this chapter is hereby declared to be unlawful and a public nuisance that is subject to abatement in accordance with this chapter, Chapter 5 of Title 1, and/or any other remedy available at law or equity.
(B) Cultivation is prohibited on any parcel unless there is an occupied, legally established residence on the premises that is connected to an approved sewer system or to a County inspected and approved wastewater disposal system.
(C) Cultivation within a residence or any other structure used or intended for human occupancy is prohibited.
  • Exemption for medicinal and personal use cultivation of six (6) or fewer plants within a private residence. The prohibition set forth in subsection (c), shall not apply to medicinal or personal use cultivation of six (6) or fewer living cannabis plants within a private residence, provided that (1) cultivation is limited to a single cultivation area no larger than one hundred (100) square feet; (2) the cultivation area is secured in a locked space that prevents unauthorized access by minors; and (3) cannabis cultivation is not visible from a public place.
(D) Outdoor cultivation on any premises is prohibited.
(E) Excepting as provided under subsection 10-14.030(c)(1), medicinal and personal use cultivation may only occur on a premises within a detached residential accessory structure to a single-family dwelling unit.
(F) Accessory structures used for cultivation shall meet all of the following criteria:
  • The accessory structure shall be legally constructed with all applicable permits.
  • The accessory structure shall be secure from unauthorized entry.
  • If the accessory structure is a greenhouse, for security and visual screening purposes, it shall additionally be surrounded by a secure solid minimum six (6′) foot high fence located within ten (10′) feet of the greenhouse, and equipped with a lockable gate.
(G) Cultivation within an accessory structure pursuant to subsection 10-14.030(e) shall not exceed twelve (12) cannabis plants on any premises, inclusive of plants cultivated in the associated single-family residence pursuant to subsection 10-14.030(c)(1).
(H) Cultivation of marijuana in an accessory structure is prohibited on any premises located within the following areas:
  • Within one thousand (1,000′) feet of a school, public park, public library, church, or youth-oriented facility. Distance shall be measured in a straight line from either (a) the nearest exterior wall of the indoor cultivation structure or (b) the nearest fence surrounding the greenhouse cultivation structure or from the nearest exterior wall of the greenhouse cultivation structure, whichever is closer, as applicable, to the nearest property line of the nearest school, public park, public library, church, or youth-oriented facility.
  • In any location where the marijuana plants would be visible from any public right-of-way or publicly traveled private roads at any stage of their growth.
(I) All persons and entities engaging in the cultivation of marijuana shall:
  • Have a legal water source on the premises;
  • Not engage in unlawful or unpermitted surface drawing of water for such cultivation; and/or
  • Not permit illegal discharges of water from the premises.
(J) Marijuana cultivation shall not adversely affect the environment or the public health, safety, or general welfare by creating dust, glare, heat, noise, noxious gasses, odor, smoke, traffic, or vibration, by the use or storage of plant or animal poisons, or hazardous materials, processes, products or wastes, or by any other way.
(K) No person owning, leasing, occupying, or having charge or possession of any parcel or premises within the County shall cause, allow, suffer, or permit such premises to be used for the cultivation of marijuana in violation of this Code.
(Ord. No. 15-04, § I, 4-7-2015; Ord. No. 15-18, § VI, 12-8-2015; Ord. No. 15-19, § II, 12-8-2015; Ord. No. 17-14, § V, 12-5-2017)”

Can Siskiyou County do this? Allegedly, yes. Under California Prop 64.

“The AUMA (Adult Use of Marijuana Act) will require local jurisdictions to allow cultivation of up to six marijuana plants on any parcel, if inside a private residence or accessory structure that is “fully enclosed and secure.” (Section 11362.2(b)). The measure allows locals to ban outdoor cultivation, but they will ultimately lose out on tax revenues recouped via Prop. 64 if they do. In addition, locals will be forbidden to ban outdoor cultivation if and when the Attorney General determines that non-medical marijuana has become legal under federal law. (Sec 11362.2(b)(4)”

Now that we have the background, why is it happening and what exactly is happening in Siskiyou County?

“Day after day, sheriff’s deputies drive up and down the road outside Steve Griset’s 600-acre farm, pulling over anyone who appears to be hauling water for the thousands of marijuana greenhouses that have taken over the countryside here.”

“Griset has become a target, even though he grows alfalfa. Last year, investigators with the Siskiyou County District Attorney’s Office raided Griset’s house with a search warrant looking for his business records, and the DA followed up with a lawsuit in civil court.”

“Griset’s alleged transgressions? He was selling water from his well to his pot-farming neighbors, immigrants of Hmong descent who have helped turn this sparsely populated, volcanic-soiled section of California into a major source of cannabis production.”

The police have been aggressively enforcing ordinances that prevent well owners from selling and trucking water to pot farmers most of whom are of Asian descent.

“At the same time, deputies are threatening to cite local businesses supplying the cannabis farms with soil, lumber and other materials that amount to “aiding and abetting in the illegal activity,” the sheriff’s office said earlier this month on Facebook.”

“The sheriff is also recruiting private citizens to operate “heavy equipment, such as dozers and excavators” to bulldoze greenhouses to combat what the sheriff on Facebook calls the “illegal Commercial Cannabis Activity plaguing our county.”

The pot farmers believe they are being targeted because of their race. There have been protests with cries for “Stop Asian Hate” and “Asian Lives Matter”. And it seems that they are being targeted. 

The growers argue that if you drive down secluded rural roads in Siskiyou County, you’ll find large pot grows tended by white people. They ask: Why are only Asians being singled out?”

Naturally officials dispute the allegations of racial motivation with comebacks of run down properties ruining the environment and the growers having connections to organized crime – an allegation the growers fiercely deny.

“The battle in Siskiyou County illustrates how in some parts of California, the legalization of marijuana has failed to bring the cannabis industry fully out of the shadows. In these places, large-scale marijuana farming remains a criminal enterprise.”

Siskiyou County is creating the problem with their provincial mindset by not allowing any commercial cannabis operations in a state that has legalized the plant but left a loophole for the narrow minded to exploit hard working cannabis farmers.

“Since October, the sheriff’s office has destroyed nearly 138,000 plants, seized at least 21,738 pounds of processed marijuana and $601,476 in cash from the grows in Big Springs. Deputies have cited or arrested 83 people. As California decriminalizes cannabis, county officials no longer can hold the growers in the local jail for very long.”

“It’s not like it used to be,” said newly appointed Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue. “They plead guilty and pay the fine, and then (they’re) right back to doing what they’re doing.”

“Siskiyou County, instead, is going after marijuana farmers by aggressive regulation of the most important natural resource in the state: water.”

There are two sides to this issue. And both sides are joining forces in protest of the ordinances for the sake of much needed water – although they are not necessarily advocates for each other. We know that the Asian Americans feel that the ordinances unfairly impact them. Yet there is another group who has joined with the Asian growers in protest. 

“Many asserted that the county’s latest ordinance, which prohibits water trucks on specific roads and highways, unfairly impacts Asian Americans living and farming in Siskiyou County.”

“On the other side of the issue, residents of the Big Springs area joined the protest to staunchly oppose the trucking of thousands of gallons of water from the aquifer. They worry that such activity could lead to their wells going dry and assert that illegal cannabis grows are negatively impacting the environment and say accusations of racism are clouding the real issue.” 

Finally on May 4, 2021 “the supervisors approved an urgency ordinance that made it a misdemeanor to drive water trucks on specific roads where there’s an abundance of cannabis grows. Any truck that carries more than 100 gallons of water was immediately prohibited from traveling on specific routes in both the Butte Valley and Big Springs areas unless they had a valid permit, which were to be issued free of charge for those who had a valid agricultural errand.”

This solves nothing except to put the area at risk for fire and other problems that arise from lack of water. But the pot growers are fighting back by filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the county. Attorney Allison Margolin https://www.margolinlawrence.com

 the founder of this very zine https://darkmattersmag.com/ is representing the Hmong in their civil rights case against the county.

“The pot growers believe they are being targeted because of their race, seizing on the “Stop Asian Hate” rallying cry following a rash of hate crimes. They’ve protested by the hundreds in front of the courthouse in Yreka, the county seat, and they’re working with their attorneys, they say, to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the county.”

The Hmong people date back to 4000 BCE with a rich tradition on the Yellow and Yangtze rivers in China. They are “credited with being among the first people to cultivate rice and to spread this staple throughout Asia”. Fast forward to the 1960s and the Hmong were recruited by the CIA to help fight in the Secret War in Laos and the Vietnam War. 

In the two worst years of the both the American War in Vietnam and the Secret War in Laos, 18,000 Hmong soldiers were killed in combat, in addition to thousands more civilian casualties. The March 1968 assault by North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao forces on the top-secret airbase at Phou Pha Thi—known to the CIA as “Lima Site 85”—resulted in the deaths of 12 US Air Force personnel, and many more Hmong and Thai soldiers.”

“By 1971, the Secret War was weighing heavily on the Hmong and the people of Laos. The estimated death toll for Hmong soldiers this year alone was 3,000, with 6,000 more wounded. More and more boys were becoming involved; the average age of Hmong recruits that year was 15.” 

“By the war’s end, between 30,000 and 40,000 Hmong soldiers had been killed in combat, and between 2,500 and 3,000 were missing in action. An estimated one-fourth of all Hmong men and boys died fighting the Communist Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese Army. The official US military death total in Vietnam exceeded 58,000.”

“The 2010 census recorded more than 260,000 Hmong in the United States. More than 66,000 of that number lived in Minnesota, most of them in or near the Twin Cities—the largest urban population of Hmong in America.”

How did the Hmong arrive in Siskiyou County? 

“Mouying Lee, a computer programmer and entrepreneur was among the first Hmong to arrive in Siskiyou County from Fresno in 2015. Lee was responsible for many of the real estate transactions in Big Springs.”

He told The Bee in 2017 that he and other Hmong men and women fell in love with Siskiyou County because its terrain reminded them of the mountains of Laos, where the Hmong lived and many farmed opium for generations. Years after the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam, thousands of Hmong refugees who fought on America’s behalf were allowed to immigrate to the United States, with many of them settling in California’s Central Valley.”

“In interviews, some Hmong marijuana farmers said they were drawn to the rural lifestyle.”

“My parents have no kids no more. They want to be out here like back in the days, because, you know, no stress. It’s just farming, camping-type style,” said one Hmong grower, a 40-year-old man who has a wife, school-age kids and a new baby back home in Merced. “So they actually move out here and build themselves and live out here.”https://www.sacbee.com/news/california/article251586403.html

Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters) & Allison Margolin ESQ.

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