Sheriff Greg Hagwood talked to the county board of supervisors June 6 about the terrible problem of criminal cartels growing cannabis on Forest Service land in Plumas County.
In answer to a question from the board, Hagwood said it was difficult for him to predict with a lot of confidence, how much land is being impacted by the cartels. “However,” he proclaimed, “the problem on the forests is enormous.”
Effects on people
The sheriff emphasized how toxic the chemicals are that these criminal cartels are using. Hagwood pointed out that many of the people working at the cartels’ illegal grow sites are working there as slave laborers. He speculated, “Some probably don’t make it off the hill alive.”
These toxic chemicals also pose a hazard to citizens, federal workers and law enforcement officers who come upon these sites.
Effects on the environment
These chemicals have also killed a lot of wildlife and may be finding their way into groundwater and nearby streams.
The cartels put out rat poison to kill rodents attracted to their cannabis plants. These poisoned rodents are then eaten by carnivores, which also die.
Sometimes poison-laced hotdogs are put out by the cartels to directly kill carnivores. Many fishers have been killed in this manner. Fishers are medium-sized weasels currently being considered for federal endangered species status.
The cartels also divert stream water, draining the streams in the process, to provide water for their cannabis plants.
Finally, when the cartels leave, they leave behind all their toxic waste and trash.
Costs of cleanup
Because of these dangerous chemicals, contaminated areas are expensive to clean up. Hagwood said that cleanup involves carrying off tens of thousands of pounds of hazardous waste and debris and then disposing of it properly.
Hagwood said there is state and federal money for site cleanup but there is never enough. To make matters worse, Hagwood said, “As the problem worsens, the resources to deal with the problem are shrinking. I think this is an alarming trend.”
“I think we are really going in the wrong direction,” added Hagwood.
Hagwood said the federal and state governments should be doing more to prevent the problem in the first place, by stopping the cartels from setting up operations.
He said that federal and state governments should also be spending more resources on finding contaminated sites and paying to clean them up.
It’s not about cannabis
Hagwood emphasized, “It’s really not about cannabis.” He said it’s about slavery and chemicals toxins and their effects on people and the environment.
Local people using environmentally friendly methods of growing and processing cannabis are not the problem and are opposed to the cartels.
Hagwood noted that the cartels are from Mexico and South America and the cannabis they are growing is not even being sold in California. “It is being grown,” he said, “for markets in the Midwest and along the East Coast.
Cartels starting to buy land
Hagwood observed that although most of the cartels’ activities are currently taking place in remote areas on federal land, cartels are starting to buy private land in Plumas County.
It is possible in the future, he said, that the cartels may try to pass off the cannabis they grow, using their environmentally damaging methods, as legally grown cannabis.
Cartels not going away
“The idea that the cartels will evaporate is pure nonsense,” Hagwood said. He noted that Colorado has seen an increase in cartel activity. Colorado legalized recreational cannabis five years before California.