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Hmong Federal Lawsuit Retaliation For Cannabis Law?

By William E. Simpson
09/18//16 -- A Federal Lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court – Eastern District of California on September 12, 2016 (2:16-cv-02172-JAM-CMK) by a group of Hmong Plaintiffs led by Jesse Vang and Wang Chang against Siskiyou County, its Sheriff (Jon Lopey), the County Clerk (Coleen Setzer), along with Alex Nishimura (an investigator for the Secretary of State of California) and many others, including the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The lawsuit makes many claims including voter intimidation and discrimination.

(Note: In the interest of full disclosure, the writer of this story lives in Siskiyou County and has been following the story over last year.)

There is no doubt that a significant percentage of Hmong immigrants that have moved into Siskiyou County have taken-up the cultivation of cannabis, allegedly for ‘personal medical use’. However, when any person grows more than the dozen plants legally allowed by Siskiyou County, which can yield five, and up to twenty pounds of dried flowers (‘buds’) per plant, any logical person has to ask; can anyone even smoke or consume the low-end quantity of that cannabis annual production (27,240 grams of bud/year)?

Another way to look at this: A normal cannabis cigarette (AKA; a 'joint') contains about one-half gram of dried flower (bud). So the estimated legal yield from 12-cannabis plants in Siskiyou County of 27,240 grams of dried flower (bud) could potentially provide a 'patient' with 54,480 joints. And 54,480 joints would provide an individual with about 150 joints (75 grams) per-day annually for consumption.

If I were a judge in a case like this, I would insist on meeting anyone who could walk into a courtroom after smoking (or consuming) the equivalent of 150 joints (75 grams of cannabis) in a day. Of course the next questions I would have for any such person are: Did you drive yourself here today? And do you have a valid drivers license? And if so, why? And finally, do you own any firearms?

From this writers perspective, anyone who needs to use that much cannabis personally on an annual basis should not be allowed to drive or operate any equipment, nor should they be allowed to possess any firearms. Of course we all know that nobody can legitimately consume that much of today's potent cannabis, which proves the point that; anyone who is not appropriately licensed and who is growing dozens (or more) of cannabis plants in Siskiyou County (and elsewhere) fully intends on breaking the Federal, State and County laws and ordinances.

Any claim that a medical patient (or recreational user) requires more than that monumental amount (27,000+ grams) of marijuana as personal ‘medicine’ is just ridiculous. So why grow more?

This leaves us with the only other logical answer; money! Anyone engaged in the cultivation of quantities of cannabis beyond the legal personal limits in Siskiyou County is clearly planning on the illicit distribution and sale of a Federally controlled Schedule 1 narcotic on the street, which has some very serious consequences, including adverse social-economic as well as public safety ramifications.

Some people may argue that cannabis may become legal for recreational use in 2017 if the November ballot measure in CA passes. Yet, if we assume for the moment that an ‘individual’ cannot smoke or consume over 27,000 grams of pot, and if we take a just a minute to consider who in this matter is producing this bumper crop of black-market cannabis, a whole new set of important questions arises, which support the Federal and State laws and the Siskiyou County ordinances that are in place for both legal and illegal cannabis production. And most importantly, the County cannabis laws ('T' & 'U') were implemented into law by an overwhelming majority vote by the citizens of the County.

Legal (licensed) growers who (in other states) produce cannabis at commercial levels for resale are carefully monitored and their plants are subject to inspection by various agencies (OSHA, Dept. of Agriculture, etc.), and their final products are laboratory tested for purity before they are sold to the public, and with good reason. This is not the case with cannabis grown illicitly for the black markets, which in most cases cannot pass the lab testing (pesticide and chemical screening) required for cannabis sold through legal dispensaries.

Black-market growers (many of the Hmong growers in Siskiyou County are allegedly illicit growers) use many pesticides and other chemicals (some of which are banned for use in CA) that remain in the final product to be consumed by people (in the flowers/buds), which if ingested causes various health problems, including cancer. Let's face it; there is no debate that it's wrong at every level to be poisoning people with tainted cannabis.

I am surprised that OSHA and the Dept. Agriculture haven’t stepped-into the fray in Siskiyou and other counties in California in the interests of protecting the health of the public (workers and consumers of cannabis), who are and will be exposed to the ‘commercial use’ of the pesticides and chemicals being used by illicit and un-monitored cannabis growers, including these Hmong growers (for instance, do these growers properly post the Hazard Communication Standard: Safety Data Sheets - OSHA 3514?)

The un-monitored and un-approved commercial use of various pesticides, rodenticides and many other chemicals by illegal Hmong and other growers also presents a huge environmental impact, adversely affecting the local wildlife and introducing toxins into the wildlife food-chain and ground and surface water sources killing countless birds, reptiles, small mammals, and sickening larger mammals like deer.

It should be noted that the dangerous contaminants (pesticides, etc.) that remain in the final cannabis products (flowers and oil extracts) being produced by many of the illegal growers are far more insidious than those which caused the Surgeon General to require health warnings on cigarettes and tobacco products.

It's also a fact that when illicit cannabis growers sell their crops, they also cheat the County, the State and the Fed by not paying any taxes on the in-State (and any out-of-State) sales (export-import) of their crops, yet they claim to reside-in and use State and County resources. The sales of illicit cannabis grown in Siskiyou County provides many tens of millions of dollars in cash into the pockets of the growers, who have ample financing to leverage public opinion as well as fund bogus lawsuits as yet another form of intimidating local county governments.

A logical person might also wonder: Where is the IRS and the FBI in regard to the implied cash-money laundering and racketeering associated to this huge annual cash flow? Has anyone asked to see the past 3-years of Federal and State tax returns of these illicit growers? Do the attorneys for the Hmong Plaintiffs accept their undeclared cash as payment for services? I can imagine that the attorneys for the Defendants will be having a very interesting time during the 'discovery' phase of the litigation.

Public health issues and 'the right to quiet enjoyment:
Imagine for the moment that you are retired and own a decent home in a neighborhood where there is a mix of homes and vacant home sites (lots) for sale. And then someone buys the lot next to you, moves onto the land and starts using an open-pit cesspool for human waste and has no garbage service. And added to that, the so-called neighbor starts growing dozens or in some cases, hundreds of illicit cannabis plants, necessitating many field workers to manage the crop. Of course they have no source of on-site water, that necessitates numerous water trucks per garden and many business related cars driving up and down the minimal neighborhood roads, creating dust clouds that fill the air, which are occasionally scented with pesticides and the smells associated with these enterprises. This has all occurred in some neighborhoods in Siskiyou County. And the citizens in those neighborhoods who are not illegal pot growers are themselves denied the 'quiet enjoyment' that the Hmong growers claim in their lawsuit they have been denied! Talk about spinning a story on its head!

When the illicit cannabis cultivation industry became an obvious and serious problem for Siskiyou County as a result of hundreds of citizen complaints being lodged with the County and its Sheriff, the County asked its citizens for input regarding a fair and reasonable solution that still allows personal-use cannabis cultivation, as is the Democratic process. And cannabis measures ‘T’ and ‘U’ were ultimately placed on the County ballot for the June 7, 2016 vote. These measures gave the County the tools it needed to help control and abate illicit cannabis growers in the County, while simultaneously assuring that people who needed a reasonable amount of cannabis as medicine could legally produce their own cannabis via a dozen plants.

However, these measures (‘T’ & ‘U’) presented a serious impediment to all the illicit commercial-level growers who want to illegally grow dozens and hundreds of plants, including the large well-organized ethnic group of Hmong growers.

Unlike other illicit commercial growers in the County, the Hmong people obviously realized that they represented an ethnic minority within the County, and it now seems they are trying to capitalize and take advantage of that position with their recently filed lawsuit, which falsely alleges voter intimidation and discrimination among other sensationally false claims.

It’s a sad fact that the American judicial system is now burdened with cases that smack of ‘abuse of process’, and in the case of these Hmong plaintiff’s, such a theory seems to fit the facts. This lawsuit seems to be no more than a baseless counter-attack by some illegal pot growers; retaliation for the law enforcement actions against their alleged illegal enterprises. It's about the money...

Some of the other salient points in this matter are as follows:
The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office has at all relevant times exercised law and zoning code enforcement authority without regard to the ethnicity of the violators, and this practice is well-known among non-Hmong growers. It is important to note that in 2016, numerous enforcement actions have been taken of the type alleged in the complaint against those of other than Hmong ethnicity.

The Hmong Plaintiffs' claim that Siskiyou County did not enforce its ordinances requiring County approved water and septic before significant numbers of Hmong people began taking title to land in Siskiyou County, which is manifestly false. Aside from the County’s common-sense health ordinances, any layperson realizes that approved septic and water services are essentials for basic sanitation and public health even at a personal level.

The fact that voting enforcement efforts were taken against many members of the Hmong community was because of the concerted action by members of that community to attempt voter registration from parcels on which no legal residence was allowed, and which were not bona fide domiciles under state law. California law does allow, under certain circumstances, domicile to be established from “public camp or camping grounds” (Election Code section 2027), but does not allow domicile to be established where residence is unlawful.

On its face, the evidence suggests a concerted and unlawful effort by marijuana growers to illegally influence the outcome of the June 2016 election on Siskiyou County measures T and U. And having lost the election, they now demand immunity from enforcement of those ordinances and others. Marijuana enforcement efforts have been taken against many members of the Hmong community because of their conduct in growing marijuana in violation of local ordinances, not from any form of discrimination.

As of this article, the Sheriff of Siskiyou County and his office continues to enforce marijuana-related ordinances and laws against all violators in Siskiyou County, whether or not of Hmong ethnicity. And it should be noted that the vast majority of residents in Siskiyou County hold Sheriff Jon E. Lopey in very high regard, and his record in law enforcement is exemplary:

If the theory of the Hmong’s complaint were to be accepted by the Court, any minority community would be privileged to violate local and even Federal laws to the extent that it organized itself to violate the law in concert, so that enforcement efforts for the organized-for violation appear to disproportionately target that minority group. And allowing this to go unchecked assures further lawlessness and illegal exploitation of the land in our State and County.

Related Story:

William Simpson is the author of Dark Stallions – Legend of the Centaurians, proceeds from which go towards supporting wild and domestic horse rescue and sanctuary.

Capt. William E. Simpson II is a U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, having logged more than 150,000 miles at sea. Simpson has successfully survived long-term ‘off the grid’ at sea and at remote uninhabited desert islands with his family for years at a time. He holds a U.S.C.G. 500-ton captain’s license for commercial-inspected passenger vessels and he is also a commercial airplane and helicopter pilot.

Simpson spent his formative years growing up on the family’s working ranch in the mountains of Southern Oregon, where horses were an integral part of the daily life. William left the family ranch to attend college, which turned out to be a stepping stone into a bizarre lifestyle that led him around the world on an entrepreneurial quest. An adventurer at heart, Simpson and his best friend and wife Laura, spent many years at sea during two sailing expeditions (1991-1994 and 2008-2011) where they experienced some of the many wonders and mysteries of nature. Since retiring, Bill and Laura have changed lifestyles and are once again engaged in a new adventure; living an off-grid lifestyle in the remote wilderness of the Siskiyou Mountains, where they enjoy coexisting with herds of wild horses, along with a myriad of other wild animals. The staggering beauty of the local mountains and valleys is awe inspiring and has influenced Bill to frequently write on subjects related to wild horses as well as wild and domestic horse advocacy, rescue and sanctuary.

More columns by Captain William E. Simpson


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