Emerald Triangle: Hmong pot growers lose in court

Posted on September 15th, 2017 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

CaliforniaA federal judge in Sacramento on Sept. 12 ruled that sheriff's deputies and other officials in Northern California's Siskiyou County did not discriminate against Hmong residents while carrying out marijuana enforcement operations and other investigations last year.

"I am disappointed that the Court could not see how brutally my clients' most fundamental American rights were violated," attorney Brian Ford said via e-mail to the Redding Record Searchlight.

The suit against Siskiyou Sheriff Jon Lopey and other county officials stemmed from Hmong residents' claims that they were harassed and intimidated  based on their ethnicity. The suit also claimed Hmong residents were disproportionately cited for marijuana violations.

But Judge John Mendez wrote: "Plaintiffs simply do not identify any 'longstanding practice or custom' of the County discriminatorily enforcing medical marijuana ordinances and related laws against Asian Americans."

Ominously, one day after the ruling in the case, the the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to declare an unprecedented "state of emergency" over illegal cannabis cultivation in the county. Such declarations are usually reserved for natural disasters like flood, fire or earthquake.

In lobbying for the declaration, Sheriff Lopey said he'd turned down a $1 million bribe from a pair of pot-growers to protect their operation. The Record Searchlight quoted Lopey testifying: "Last week, I was supposed to get a bag of cash with $84,000. Are they doing that because they just want enough marijuana to meet their recreational or medicinal needs? No. I don’t think so."

Lopey also emphasized the "social justice and certainly the environmental implications" of the county's pot economy in calling for the  emergency declaration. He cited the toxic chemicals used at illicit grows and other dangerous conditions—including the carbon-monoxide deaths of three people sleeping in trailers at grow sites. However, earlier reportage of carbon-monoxide deaths in the Mount Shasta News on Jan. 5 didn't mention that they were connected to grow operations.

Both the social justice and environmental concerns around Northern California's cannabis economy are legitimate. But there seems to be an irony to Lopey invoking social justice concerns in light to the complaints of the county's Hmong residents.

Thanks to the Hmong controversy, this remote county in mountainous territory along the Oregon border got a rare feature write-up in the Los Angeles Times Sept. 10. The report hyped that more than 1,500 Hmong farmers in the last two years have "poured into" Siskiyou County, and noted some outrageous acts of discrimination against them. For instance, last year the town council in Yreka declared the Hmong farmers "undesired," and cut off water sales to their plots.

The LA Times account of course didn't fail to mention that the Hmong were famously opium growers in their ancestral homeland in the mountains of Laos. Ironically, many of them had to come to the United States because Hmong militias had sided with the CIA and Green Berets against the communist insurgents in the Laotian civil war of the 1960s. So the Hmong faced persecution when the communists took power in 1975.

The CIA had been happy to facilitate opium exports from the Laos highlands for the international heroin market to fund the Hmong militias. But now that Hmong are moving into the turf of rednecks and white hippies in the Emerald Triangle, the stigma of opium-growing is being used against them. The LA Times paraphrases one conveniently anonymous Hmong community leader in Sacramento as saying, "marijuana is the new opium."

Cross-post to High Times

Graphic by Global Ganja Report 


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