California

Surprise armed inspections rattle Humboldt farmers

By Alex Halperin
Aug 28, 2022
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Armed state officials convoyed through through southern Humboldt County last week conducting surprise inspections on licensed cannabis farms.

The actions, which left farmers feeling targeted and disrespected, were conducted to look for illegal water diversions in the badly depleted Redwood Creek Watershed, part of the Eel River system. However, the inspections come at a time of raw emotions since falling prices, coupled with the costs of staying compliant, have created a crisis for legacy cannabis farmers. Southern Humboldt farmers say they’re being made scapegoats for drought conditions outside their control.  

Daniel Stein, who owns cannabis and vegetable farm Briceland Forest Farm told KMUD that the actions were “enforcement raids masquerading as inspections.”

“I’m at my wit’s end, my financial end. They keep doing everything they can to try and ruin us,” he said. “Practically the only reason we went down this path was to not raise our children in a culture of fear and trauma,” he said.

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The convoys involved the state Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) and the State Water Resources Control Board, according to a DCC statement published at Redheaded Blackbelt, which along with community radio station KMUD (Friday at 8 a.m. starting at six minutes) were first to report the news. There were not reports of fines or other penalties for farmers. The agencies did not respond to WeedWeek’s weekend requests for comment.

“While these inspections did not include notice to licensees, our intent is to work with cultivators in the area to identify opportunities for water conservation methods and conduct routine compliance checks,” the DCC statement said.

The inspections, which took place on Wednesday and Thursday, reminded many farmers of more aggressive enforcement actions from before they decided to join the legal market. 

The inspections were “egregious and brutal” Johnny Casali, who owns Garberville-area Huckleberry Hill Farms said. Casali, who acts as a kind of ambassador for the farmers to the state government, said the inspections shattered the fragile trust he’s been building between government officials and the region’s legacy farmers.

Farms are open to inspections and in some cases had been through recent inspections, Casali said. “If you suspect people are doing something illegally, you should get a warrant,” he said. “That’s what we expect as a legal business.”

There’s a perception among the farmers that they’re being targeted for water inspections while other businesses in the area and massive cannabis grows elsewhere in the state are not. The unannounced arrival of armed officials “threw the community into a whirlwind of bad memories,” he said.

Diana Totten, a local consultant who works with many licensed farmers on compliance issues, told KMUD she had received calls from about 60 farmers who “feel completely terrorized” and unsafe in their homes.

The event came a week after the agencies hosted a workshop in the area to provide farmers with technical assistance, including on water issues, and information on a cannabis grants program. The Redwood Creek Watershed is home to coho and chinook salmon populations threatened by the drought conditions prevalent across much of the American west.

“We see ourselves as stewards of the land,” Stein, who grew up in Humboldt and returned to farming there 26 years ago, told WeedWeek. “Cannabis farms aren’t the dominant use of water in this watershed.” He and others cited the work of back to the land farmers since the 1960’s to restore the watershed after years of logging.

“There’s gotta be a better way to do this,” Totten told KMUD. “It’s almost like the six years of work we’ve done to get to this far are coming to an end.”

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