Archives June 2008
It was the biggest news story in Humboldt County since prop 215 was voted into law. Rumors of federal raids on marijuana growers started way before official announcements were made, and by the time the 450 federal agents executed 29 search warrants in "Operation Southern Sweep" nearly every news outlet had joined the fray.
We at Humboldt County News, not having any direct connection to either end of the federal investigation, professional news media, or any reliable informants, chose to sit back and watch the news happen from a distance. Now that it's over, we have some opinions to share and points to highlight.
The public reaction to both the rumors and the actual FBI took to one of two extremes. Some of the (mostly anonymous) comments on various blogs praised the feds for coming in and at least attempting to clean out some of the large-scale organized crime related to marijuana production. And yet other people criticized the federal action and lack of local backlash in response to hundreds of federal agents "invading" parts of our county.
Here's what we think: Growing pot for profit is illegal, and those who get nabbed for such crimes deserve it. Compassionate use, growing enough for yourself and within the limits defined by the state or county, is a good thing, and people who follow the rules should be protected by state law. The giant ring of suspected organized marijuana growing conspirators that the FBI and State DOJ raided on June 24 was not doing good for the community, they were little more than pot profiteers, consumed by their own greed and too deep into their 2000 acre grow project to maintain any realistic perspective. The feds brought some perspective, and surely the IRS will be slapping some large charges of tax evasion upon the criminals behind the scam.
To be honest, though, we were disappointed that the "sweep" wasn't more thorough. We still see countless growers around town flashing their black-market cash at stores, speeding down our streets in shiny $80k lifted pickup trucks, and spending their days driving from grow house to grow house to tend gardens and move illegal marijuana from place to place. Small time growers, keep up the small time work. Keep your day job, smoke your medicine, visit your local dispensary, whatever. But you big timers, evading taxes and raking in the black market cash, we wish you a visit from the feds some day, and a trip to court to explain how you managed to buy so many fancy things without ever working a real job or filing taxes.
Our community doesn't like big time crime, and we do not support big time criminal marijuana growing. Disagree? Just look at the local blogs and newspapers. Humboldt County is sick of greed, and we want our neighborhoods back. Even the NY Times covered that story.
Amid the rumors and hysteria taking place here in Humboldt County, the DEA actually was raiding indoor growing operations as recently as last Wednesday in Willits, the outdoor pot growing capital of the planet.
With the help of the Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force (basically the Mendo version of the Humboldt County Drug Task Force), the Drug Enforcement Administration served warrants at multiple locations in three different investigations in the Willits area.
All three investigations began as a result of "citizen complaints" about the pot growers. That's right, pissed off neighbors are actually turning growers in now.
Two of the three investigations were big time--one grower was cultivating 660 plants on his property and operating a massive butane honey-oil extraction lab, and another guy was arrested after feds raided his 52-light grow room and found over $150,000 in cash, 15 pounds of pot, and 10 firearms. The third bust was relatively small: Randy Graynor was growing 49 plants in one house and 115 plants in another house and had $15,000 and two Mercedes-Benz cars at his home in Petaluma.
Anyway, what is scary about this story for Humboldt County growers is that the state of affairs here in Northern California is such that nosy neighbors are actually calling the feds and turning in pot growers. Granted, all three of the busts in the story sound like they were big time criminal operations, but it still makes for a rather 1984-ish feel since not all growers are criminals, especially here in the Arcata area where most growers are likely staying well within the county-defined limits and are actually using marijuana for medical purposes.
Looking around the local blogosphere we have seen many anonymous comments about reporting growers to the feds. We at Humboldt County News certainly do not condone big time greed and criminal marijuana production, but we do support compassionate use and marijuana growing within the limits of state law.
The sad truth is that pot growing is tearing our community apart. We have citizens calling the DEA on their neighbors, a newspaper editor who spies on the homes of residents he suspects are growing pot, wild rumors of large-scale federal raids, and a constant influx of outsiders migrating to our county because they heard that money grows quick under HID lamps.
The entire county is talking about local blogger Heraldo's announcement that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is planning hundreds of raids on indoor marijuana growers next week in Arcata.
Word spread fast after the initial story broke, and locals everywhere are claiming they have heard confirmation of this rumor from various sources, including lawyers, law enforcement agencies, and other prominent residents who are "in the know". The rumor supposedly has some growers hastily packing up their operations, while others seem to figure if it's their time, they'll go down with the ship. One thing is for sure, if the feds do come in and raid actual legitimate medical operations, there is bound to be a backlash of some sort.
One anonymous commenter at the Humboldt Herald claimed to have "inside information" that DEA agents have been stationed in Scotia for "over a month" and that other agents are already roomed at the Red Lion in Eureka. Another commenter claims that 500 employees of the "Justice Dept" are headed this way to attend a week-long conference in Fortuna. We called the Fortuna River Lodge, where the supposed conference is to take place, and asked them about events happening next week. They confirmed that all conference rooms are booked Monday through Thursday, but they claimed that they did not have information on hand about specific events on the schedule.
This morning Heraldo posted a comment on his own blog stating that the FBI has set up shop in Eureka:
"THIS JUST IN: Up to 60 FBI agents may have recently rented houses in Eureka. No confirmation whether it's connected to the planned DEA actions."
If it happens, next week's federal raids promise to make headlines across the nation, and there is a chance that it could be the largest collective marijuana bust in the history of the United States, especially if rumors are true that as many as 200 grow houses will be raided.
We seriously question the legitimacy of the rumors, especially the numbers that are being tossed around. 200 raids means 200 federal search warrants, which isn't impossible, but it does sound unlikely. The DEA can't just bust down your door without a warrant signed by a judge, and a search warrant should require evidence collected during an actual investigation, so we are definitely interested in seeing what really goes down next week. Furthermore, PG&E has stated in the past that customer privacy is very important to them, and that any release of private account records would require legal action.
Also, as many people have wondered in various blog discussions, where will the arrested individuals be held, and how will they be processed? Not that we doubt the government's ability to incarcerate large numbers of marijuana users, but it just seems unlikely that even 100 individuals would be detained at once. Then again, it might just be a one-time event like the great glass blower bust of 2003 during which 101 North was raided by DEA agents.
One thing is for sure: The gold rush is over, even if the feds aren't about to bust hundreds of growers. Arcata is sick of the pot growing scene, and some California counties have begun to question their own laws regarding the medicinal herb.
If you are one of the growers who winds up getting raided by the feds next week, feel free to share your experiences with us.
UPDATE: Herlado, the local blogger who officially spread word of the impending raids, now says that the rumors are officially false.
"Drug Enforcement Agency spokeswoman Casey McHenry told KMUD news reporter Cynthia Elkins that rumors of a crack-down on indoor marijuana grow operations in the Arcata/Eureka area are not true."
Of course, we would expect a statement of denial from the DEA regardless of their plans. Regardless, the truth will come out next week, and it's always likely that someone, somewhere in Humboldt County will be busted by the feds for drug related crimes and conspiracies, seeing as how Arcata seems to be chock full of criminal growers.
Either way, it was fun, Herlado! Keep up the blogging, rumors or not!
Local blogger Heraldo claims he has confirmed rumors that the DEA is planning a massive week-long uber-raid on marijuana growers in Humboldt County starting next week.
Rumors were circulating a couple weeks back that the feds were going to raid dispensaries in Arcata, and as a result all but one of those facilities did not open for business on Friday, June 6. The raids never happened, though, but instead the New York Times did a cover story on grow houses in Arcata with the help of Kevin Hoover of the Arcata Eye.
The rumors started on Craigslist, and Heraldo has stated that his source for the confirmation will "remain confidential". So for now, it's still technically a rumor, but few will be surprised if the feds do come to clean house after all the national press our little pot growing community has received. Anonymous commenters on Heraldo's blog and on Craigslist are wondering if Kevin Hoover specifically requested a big DEA operation and offered his self-compiled list of grow houses to the feds as a starting point. However, we at news.humcounty.com believe that the national press alone is enough to bring in federal action, and we place no specific blame on Mr. Hoover.
Either way, if the raids actually happen it will be a major blow to 215 growers, but it may also eliminate some of the more greedy criminal operations pulling in serious cash under the protection of 215.
The first major outdoor marijuana grow of the season to be discovered and destroyed by the Humboldt County Drug Task Force was found on land owned by Pacific Lumber Company yesterday just east of Bridgeville, the town that has been bought and sold multiple times since its 2002 auction debut on eBay.
The Sheriff's Office press release says that there were 10,068 pot plants ranging from three to six inches in height protected by an electric deer fence and being kept alive with an automated watering system. Nobody was at the grow site when law enforcement officers arrived, but they are investigating the case and "evidence was collected" from the scene.
With the plants being so small, the Drug Task Force must have discovered this outdoor growing site just days after it was actually planted. Outdoor plants that are in the ground by this time of the year can grow to be three or more feet tall before flowering out, which makes us wonder if Sheriff's deputies showed up on the heels of the growers hightailing it out of there.
As is usually the case with grows of this size, "foreign drug trafficking organizations" are being blamed, and Sheriff Gary Philp warns the public that this type of outdoor pot farm can be extremely dangerous for people hiking or wandering around in the woods due to the very high value of an operation this large, and that in the event that you come across something like this, you should immediately leave and contact law enforcement.
We do wonder how many of these big outdoor grow ops are actually being organized and maintained by "foreign drug traffickers" instead of local Humboldt growers. The cops rarely find foreign nationals at grow sites, and we're having trouble recalling even a single report of Mexican gardeners being arrested at the scene of any outdoor growing operation. Perhaps our memory is shortsighted, but seriously, we're betting this is the work of true locals.
Remember this story? It refers to the well known fact that regular old Americans have been growing pot outdoors in Humboldt County for decades, and that all those buried 55 gallon drums full of cash in the hills belong to white growers, not Mexican gangsters. Or are we missing something?
Yikes. Today's New York Times exposÃ©-style article on California's biggest cash crop includes a video featuring Kevin Hoover (editor/publisher/writer/ photographer/honcho of the Arcata Eye) confronting a medical marijuana grower at his home in Arcata. Is it us or is Hoover getting all Michael Moore on medical pot these days?
The NYT article paints a picture of a state in total chaos, and also introduces yet another false statistic regarding the number of "grow houses" in Arcata. They actually printed this: "...Arcata, home of Humboldt State University, where town elders say roughly one in five homes are 'indoor grows'," which is truly a shame, not only because they did not provide any source for that data, but especially because they turned an already false and incorrect number that the L.A. Times printed into an absurd mathematical impossibility.
How does 1000 of 7500 become 1 out of 5? That just does not work out, and we are officially scolding the New York Times for printing such incorrect data. Also, the video attached to the article refers multiple times to the false statistic that 1000 homes are grow houses, even though it is clearly hearsay. Also, who the hell are these "town elders" the Times refers to?
Anyway, back to Kevin Hoover and his current agenda of walking the streets of Arcata casing houses for signs of pot growing operations. Doesn't this guy have anything better to do? It's fine with us if he continues to print stories and opinions on the topic of pot growing in Arcata, but it's a whole different gig to do a straight up knock-and-talk to a grower with a cameraman from the New York Times standing behind him.
Then again, if he doesn't do it, who will? Hoover is right about one thing: Pot growing is totally out of control in Arcata, even if it's not 1 in 5 homes or even 1000 in 7500. Mendocino may be on the right path with their recent repeal of Measure G, which allowed prop 215 patients to grow up to 25 plants. Now that the voters have spoken, that limit is down to just 6 plants per patient.
Perhaps Arcata will benefit from Hoover's relentless research and tireless reporting on the topic, perhaps we will eventually figure out how to strictly limit residential growing operations while still allowing legitimate dispensaries to function in a way that is beneficial to actual sick patients in need of medicine.
When it comes down to it, Humboldt County, and especially Arcata, absolutely has a big, huge problem with for-profit criminal marijuana growing. You better believe that most of the homes with indoor grow rooms are operating as pot businesses, growing more than they need and selling it for profit. We feel that this should be acceptable to a certain point, for example if a patient actually needs to smoke a pound of medicine a month, they might be allowed to grow two pounds per month so they can sell one to the dispensary in order to cover the costs of growing that much medicine. But when growers are blowing up whole houses and growing 10 pounds at once, then buying $50,000 pickup trucks and evading income taxes, or purchasing multiple properties to grow more pot, we're with Hoover when he says "The energy-sucking crime hives aren't going to be tolerated any more than crack houses, trash houses or any other blight would be."
It is quite possible that urban Humboldt County's current housing problems are the result of a bursting housing bubble rather than a byproduct of semi-legal marijuana grows taking over the area.
Yes, we previously opined that growers are to blame for the current lack of rental properties in Arcata and Eureka, but we need to revise that opinion a bit in light of recently acquired information.
It turns out that, while there are definitely many, many pot growers in this area who rent or own multiple properties and use them for criminal marijuana growing operations rather than renting them to families and students, the recent real estate boom probably had a big affect on the situation as well.
Back in 2005 and 2006, interest rates were low and lenders were pretty much giving away jumbo mortgages to any and all takers. So called no-doc loans were being granted to thousands of first-time and experienced buyers alike. Banks like Countrywide were approving 100% financing of homes for people who simply claimed, without any proof, that they had the income to handle the loans, and houses were selling like hotcakes for nearly two years solid. That made it really easy for both legitimate investors and marijuana growers to acquire home loans. Especially for growers, who have no proof of income, but frequently have lots of extra income that banks and government entities are not aware of.
With interest rates low and lenders handing out mortgages like candy, there were bidding wars for homes in Humboldt County as growers and investors alike bid property values way up, then closed deals with 100% financing on greatly inflated home prices. Then, when the bubble burst and everyone realized they not only paid too much for their homes, but they also have $3000 monthly mortgage payments to make, the problem became clear. No renter is going to be able to cover the mortgage for these high-priced properties. That means the owners have three choices: sell the home at a gigantic loss, live in the home and struggle to make the mortgage payments, or grow 20 lights of marijuana in the home and make a cool $250,000 a year off the place.
Odds are good that lots of these people chose option 2 from above -- live in the home and make the damn mortgage payments. Maybe they rent out a room to help cover the expense. It's also true that many people also chose option 3, grow tons of pot in the house and turn it into a criminal enterprise that pays the bills. And nobody was doing option 1 for obvious reasons.
So, we are now blaming two issues for the housing crunch in urban Humboldt County: The housing bubble, which was spurred by low interest rates and liberal lending practices back in 2005, and criminal marijuana growers who either own or rent multiple homes and use them for growing pot in for-profit, non-medical criminal operations.
This conclusion comes from the realization that the recently released "statistic" regarding the number of grow houses in Arcata was fabricated and false. You see, that number came directly from the mouth of Jack Nelson of the Humboldt County Drug Task Force, during an interview with Kevin Hoover that was published in the Arcata Eye on March 25, 2008, and Nelson even says the number is not real and he cannot back it up with actual statistics or research. But then, around the same time that Hoover was delivering form letters to the homes of suspected growers, other press outlets picked up that number and ran with it, including the L.A. Times. So, it is true what Mariellen Jurkovich said in her 3 minute public address at the Arcata City Council meeting on June 4, 2008, that the statistic (1000 out of 7200 homes are grow houses) is, by definition, hearsay, and is not backed up by any actual research or legitimate information.
So, in conclusion, the L.A. Times was wrong about the number of grow houses in Arcata, the Arcata City Council should not base any decisions on the false numbers reported in the papers, and Kevin Hoover really, really wants pot growers to go away. Oh also, local blogger Anon.R.Mous is actually suggesting we call the DEA to report marijuana grows we know about. It's getting crazy around here!
A local newspaper reported the other day that John Devoe and Clare Holmes of Arcata have been sentenced to a mere 30 days in jail for operating a criminal marijuana growing conspiracy spanning four Arcata homes during 2007.
Frankly, we find this story to be absolutely shocking. These people were operating four separate grow houses in Arcata, had $20,000 in a brown paper bag, owned stocks and bank accounts worth over $40,000, were caught with 21 pounds of pot, and had PG&E records suggesting the operation had been underway for a long time.
There is no mention of the couple being prop 215 medical patients growing for any legitimate reason, so we assume this was straight-up criminal conspiracy to distribute marijuana. And yet they only got 30 days of jail time. These people bought up 6 properties in Humboldt County and grew pot for profit and presumably to help pay their 6 mortgages. They operated this criminal ring for many months (at least) before an anonymous tipster gave them up to the Drug Task Force and they were finally busted for their crimes. And yet they are only going to jail for 30 days? Something sounds fishy here.
The news article even states that the sentencing range for marijuana cultivation is from 16 months to three years in prison. So then, how the hell did these people get off with only 30 days in jail? What gives? It sounds like Devoe and Holmes are contributing greatly to some of the problems in Arcata, and yet they are merely slapped on the wrist and then set free to start up another illegal conspiracy... *sigh*
What started in the late 1996 as a movement for "compassionate use" of marijuana for medicinal purposes has, in recent years, turned into a full-blown gold rush in Northern California.
Proposition 215 was intended to decriminalize the use and production of cannabis for patients who have few other options for treatment of their conditions. It was intended to be used by cancer patients who are nauseated as a result of chemotherapy, glaucoma sufferers, and people suffering from chronic pain due to disease, injury, or surgery.
Twelve years later Californians are starting to notice major problems associated with the lack of regulation and legal procedures for dealing with criminal marijuana gardens that have popped up in literally every neighborhood of cities like Arcata, Eureka, Willits, and Santa Rosa. It is safe to say that the majority of currently operating grow houses are run by individuals who's Prop 215 recommendations would not hold up in court.
Yesterday the L.A. Times printed an article about the many problems that illegal grow houses are causing in Arcata, California. They point to a particularly unfortunate incident in which a very messy and unprofessional, but large, marijuana grow operating in a rental home caused a fire that nearly destroyed the property, all the while the land owner had been fooled into thinking a nice law-abiding family was renting the place. The article covers many related problems in Arcata ranging from the criminal element of growers selling their medicine on the black market for profit to home invasion robberies and artificial housing demand caused by pot growing conspirators renting up all available properties for their criminal pursuits.
The L.A. Times article also mentions The Humboldt Cooperative, the dispensary in that old used car lot on I Street next door to Humboldt Hydroponics. It bills them as a nonprofit that is doing some sort of good for the compassionate use movement, but to anyone who has ever witnessed the comings and goings at the facility, it looks like little more than a pot store. Dreadlocked hippies and scummy looking 20-somethings are frequently lined up out the door waiting to buy their eighths, few of them looking like they have legitimate need for compassionate use. Park near the business for 20 minutes during the day and you are bound to see a carload of college-aged kids pull up, one of them get out and go inside the dispensary, then come running back with a smile on his face and a paper bag in his hand. Buying a sack of weed has never been so easy!
Yesterday the San Francisco Chronicle joined the fun, printing a front-page story about Mendocino County's Measure B, which aims to "weed out pot profiteers". Good luck: Mendocino is largely considered to be the marijuana capital of the planet, producing so many billions of dollars worth of the crop each year that there is likely not a single county resident who is not connected with the marijuana trade in some way or another. One resident says "it smells like pot everywhere. It just reeks."
One thing is for sure: Californians are starting to realize that Proposition 215 has been taken advantage of by many criminal growers. People are moving to Humboldt and Mendocino Counties from far and wide to cash in on the gold rush, and the affects are starting to show up in all areas of our communities. Housing is feeling the crunch, enough that families can hardly afford to rent a home in the Eureka/Arcata area, and this has caused city school enrollment to decline so much that 72 Eureka teachers are being laid off before the 2008-2009 school year begins.
Drive around Eureka and Arcata for a day and you will see the problems on nearly every corner. Blacked out windows on homes and apartments, total lack of children playing in the neighborhoods, obvious criminal activity in many parts of town, and hippies lined up out the door of Arcata's THC dispensary. Also note the number of 20-somethings driving jacked up, chromed out $40,000 pickup trucks without a spot of dirt on them. If the truck doesn't look like its driver is a working man, chances are very high that he's a pot grower. Shiny tool box in the bed but no tools? Ten inch suspension lift, chrome rims, but no lumber rack? We are betting it's a black market grower or his girlfriend.
There are 20 hydroponics supply stores between Eureka and Arcata, and fewer than 50,000 residents. That's more than one hydroponics store for every 2500 residents. The gold rush is on, but it won't be long before honest citizens get fed up enough to put an end to the criminal marijuana scene happening all across Norther California. What do you think?