Judge blocks California County tanker ban on Asian pot growers

Federal judge blocked northern California county ban on trucks delivering water to Hmong cannabis growers, saying it raises ‘serious questions’ about racial discrimination and leaves growers without a source water for basic sanitation, home gardens and livestock.

U.S. District Chief Justice Kimberly J. Mueller issued a temporary injunction on Friday against Siskiyou County’s ban on delivering water by truck to Hmong farmers who grow marijuana in the Mount Shasta Vista subdivision, in the Big Springs area, north of Weed.

“Without an injunction, the plaintiffs and other members of the Shasta Vista Hmong community will likely be without water for their basic needs and will likely lose more plants and livestock,” she wrote. “Fires can burn more homes. People can be forced to leave their homes and land without compensation.

“The complainants also raised serious questions about their constitutional right to be free from racial discrimination. “

Over the past five years, hundreds of Hmong farmers have purchased cheap land in the housing estate and erected hundreds of marijuana greenhouses on the volcanic rock covered hills, in violation of the county’s ban on growing cannabis. for commercial purposes.

Authorities estimate that there are 5,000 to 6,000 pot greenhouses in the Big Springs area, with as many as 4,000 to 8,000 people caring for them, mostly Hmong and immigrant dwellers. Chinese origin.

Most of the plots do not have wells on site, so water purchased by the Hmong from agricultural wells from neighboring farmers is trucked to cultivation sites where swimming pools and large portable tanks feed the greenhouses.

The expansion of greenhouses led to complaints that local residential wells were drying up. At the same time, county law enforcement officials cited an increase in violent crime along with illegal pesticides and fertilizers, piles of garbage and raw sewage spills in crops.

This spring, citing the need to protect residential wells and cut off the supply of illegal crops, the county approved orders banning the sale of unlicensed well water and tankers on roads leading to the subdivision. The deputies fired aggressively at anyone suspected of carrying water.

“Racial animus” in play?

Lawyers for the Hmong producers have filed a lawsuit in federal court in Sacramento, alleging the orders were racially motivated and violated their civil rights.

Their lawyers claimed that by depriving the families who tended the crops of water it suffocated more than cannabis. The county has also deprived residents of Shasta Vista of the means to bathe, tend their vegetable gardens, and keep their ducks, chickens and other animals alive.

Mueller’s injunction on Friday made it clear that she believes the producers have arguments to make that “the orders are motivated by racial animosity” as their civil action unfolds. But the judge left in place a county ordinance that banned the sale of well water specifically for the illegal cultivation of cannabis. The injunction only covers sales and deliveries of water for human needs such as swimming and gardening, said Allison Margolin, one of the Hmong lawyers.

Siskiyou County attorney Edward Kiernan did not immediately return a request for comment on Tuesday. In previous interviews, Siskiyou County officials have denied that their motives were racially motivated.

Mueller noted that the county presents its own compelling arguments that crime is on the rise.

“Violent crime in Shasta Vista has also increased in recent years,” she wrote. “The sheriff’s office responded to reports of armed robberies, assaults and murders. In just one week, one man was whipped and robbed, another was shot by a neighbor, and six people were tied up and robbed by gunmen wielding AK-47s. Few of the similar crimes were reported in Shasta Vista before illegal cannabis cultivation took hold. “

She also noted the sheriff’s arguments that living conditions are unsafe and that people have died in unauthorized structures after suffering carbon monoxide poisoning, as well as cultivation sites contributing to environmental problems.

Greenhouses dot the landscape north of the Siskiyou County A-12 road in a drone photo from May 13, 2021. In recent years, many of the new illicit crops of marijuana have been traced to community residents. Hmong who had settled in the Mount Shasta Vista subdivision. Recently, however, community members said that a separate group of Chinese producers had increased the visibility of the activity in the region. Xavier Mascareñas [email protected]

But she said the county has other zoning laws and other laws in place to enforce these issues without depriving families of water.

“Residents of Shasta Vista can drink and bathe in non-potable water trucked into Shasta Vista from nearby agricultural wells, but the alternative is very little or no water at all,” she wrote. “While potable water is in fact available, as the county claims… this order in no way precludes authorities from helping the residents of Shasta Vista find and use this potable water.

Lava fire shooting investigated

Mueller also noted that even though the county claims to be prepared to issue permits to transport water legally, Siskiyou County has made it clear that it is not really interested in issuing them to the Hmong, many of whom do not talk about. good english.

The forms are all written in English and the county requires anyone who signs an application to swear not to break county rules – which Mueller says includes not having an adequate water supply in their home.

“Many people in the Shasta Vista Hmong community do not live in approved structures and do not have approved water sources, the very reason they would apply for a permit in the first place,” she wrote.

Hmong farmers have also argued that the water ban denies them the ability to put out fires that break out in the housing estate.

In late June, a lightning bolt ignited the nearby lava fire before burning several plots of the Mount Shasta Vista Subdivision.

The Hmong of Shasta Vista accused firefighters of not bothering to try to put it out, preventing them from bringing their own tankers so they could fight the blaze on their own.

Hmong residents brought their own tanker truck to help put out hot sports at a burning marijuana farm during the lava fire on Tuesday, June 29, 2021, outside of Weed in Siskiyou County. The Siskiyou County Sheriff said police shot dead a man after he shot them near a large complex of cannabis farms threatened by the lava fire. Paul Kitagaki Jr. [email protected]

Local authorities disputed the charges and said marijuana growers were blocking roads, throwing stones and forcing Cal Fire crews to withdraw from the scene.

Tensions grew deadly when police shot dead a Hmong man who they said attempted to walk through a fire checkpoint while brandishing a gun.

County officials said the investigation into the shooting was ongoing. Authorities have yet to release the final report or any body camera or dash cam footage taken from the shooting.

During this time, Mueller’s injunction takes effect immediately and will remain in effect until the federal case is concluded. No trial date is scheduled.

Raza Lawrence, another attorney for Hmong producers, said on Tuesday that his clients are hoping Mueller’s injunction will become permanent because it helps avert a “humanitarian crisis” in Shasta Vista, but they will take their water. will be able to obtain in the meantime.

“Now they can finally resume a normal life on their land,” he said.

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Ryan Sabalow covers environment, general and business news, and investigative stories for McClatchy’s Western Newspapers. Prior to joining The Bee in 2015, he was a reporter for The Auburn Journal, The Redding Record Searchlight and The Indianapolis Star.

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