Mount Shasta Forest residents protest large pot grows

Shareen Strauss
Picketers at the entrance to Mount Shasta Forest Property Owner's Association against the growing numbers of large marijuana growers in their area.

Editor’s note: It’s not a line drawn in the sand but a chasm that separates those who favor and those who oppose Measures T and U on Siskiyou County’s June 7 primary ballot – as can be seen in this week’s letters to the editor.

Those in favor of the measures, including some residents in the Mount Shasta Forest Property Owners Association just outside of McCloud, believe the ordinances are needed to stop the proliferation of illegal commercial grows. They have been picketing recently to bring attention to that problem.

Those opposed believe the ordinances will restrict the ability of legal medical marijuana users to grow the plants they are allowed to grow by state law.

Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey, who has been making the rounds speaking about the need for a new jail and problems with illicit drugs, said in a statement released over the weekend that, “Our way of life, quality of life, and the health and safety of our children and grandchildren are being threatened like never before by the proliferation of illegal marijuana.” But Lopey also states that he wants the measures to pass in order to “[go] after law breakers and drug traffickers with these ordinances and our law enforcement efforts.” He said the ordinance allows up to 12 marijuana plants for growers, and his office “will protect the right of legitimate medical marijuana users as long as they are not breaking the law.”

Article by Shareen Strauss

On the cross streets of Hotlum and Wintoon at the entrance to the Mount Shasta Forest Property Owner's Association, just a few miles east of McCloud, there is a line of picketers protesting against illegal non-compliant growers. About a dozen home owners hold signs that say, “No Commercial Grows” and “13 or More-No More.” They show up here at different times, on different days.

Raquel Ritt, a MSFPOA resident, says, “My purpose of starting the protest is because a lot of people are afraid to comment against the illegal growing in fear of retaliation. We want to let other members know they are not alone and to let the commercial grows that under the law it is only 12 plants allowed on these two and a half acre lots with a doctor's recommendation. I am not against medical marijuana for those who need it when conventional medication doesn't work for them.”

Sheriff John Lopey says three areas are being targeted by commercial growers: Shasta Vista, KRCR near Hornbrook, and Mount Shasta Forest Property Owner's Association just outside of McCloud.

Another one of the picketers, Toby Welsh, has lived in the Mount Shasta Forest Property Owner's Association for 51 years. He has accumulated 18 years of being on the board of the association throughout the years. He says, “If they do it (grow marijuana) legally, I don't have a problem with it. They (illegal marijuana growers) have two lots above me and they’ve cut down about 100 trees without filing a timber harvest plan with the Forest Service or CDF. They own at least 100 of the 740 lots up here. My concerns are when they get busted and leave the lots for the Association to clean up all the mess. There will be a lot of junk to clean up and who knows how much hazardous material there will be. Other than that, they are nice people. They are farmers. But they need to obey the law.”

Seeking peace and tranquility

Mount Shasta Forest Property Owner’s Association, known as “The Forest,” is a residential area just east of McCloud off of Highway 89. These 2.5 acre lots are off the grid which attracts people that “want peace and tranquility with that camping feeling,” claims Alan Quinn, who, with his wife Lillian, has lived there for the last 16 years.

The Quinns received a notification dated April 19, 2016, that a neighbor wants to cut down timberland for a residential house pad and garden area. The notification states “the minimum size of this conversion is less than three acres.”

The Quinns, of native American ancestry, claimed that the pileated woodpecker uses that area for its nesting and this woodpecker holds cultural significance for their tribe. In their response letter, they claim that there is already a significant clearing for any future house and a reasonable amount of land for limited agriculture use. They also stated there is no well on the property “so large scale gardening is out of the picture.”

Another long term resident who lives in “The Forest” is Kathie Smith. She says, “I don't have a problem with medical marijuana. I have a problem with commercial growers. They are wrecking the forest with their clear-cutting. They are wrecking our roads and stealing our water. This is a residential area and vegetation of any kind for commercial gardens are prohibited.”

Sam Mackey-Meyer said she has had Laotians growing marijuana next to her lot in this subdivision. More than 90 individual planters are visible from the road. There is no well on the lot. Seen from the road are three 500 gallon water tanks. Mackey-Meyer says of her neighbors, “They didn't cause me any problems. They are more respectful than the other people that live here. They can do what they want with their property. The guys next door grew for three years. The only thing I don't like is the smell of their plants during those couple months.”

Bylaws and CC&Rs

The current president of the board of the Mount Shasta Forest Property Owner's Association, Jim Langum, explains how the system works for property owner’s associations, “We must adhere to the bylaws and the CC&Rs rules and laws of the association, as well as Resolution 5-13, which states 6 marijuana plants per acre/12 plants per up to 20 acres/36 plants on over 20 acres. All our lots in MSFPOA are 2.5 acres. We are not zoned for commercial use, we are zoned R1, single dwelling residential. Any growing for commercial use that creates traffic is against the CC&Rs.”

Langum, said letters are being sent to people who are infringing on the rules, based on complaints received about things such as junk on the property, old trailers falling down, barb wire fences or junk cars. He said the Board then makes a decision on what to do if the individual receiving the notice does not respond.

In many cases, “the owner responds simply by resolving the issue,” said Langum. “However, if the owner in question fails to respond to the matter, they will be asked to come before the Board to explain why they have not done anything to comply. If there is a good reason; end of story. If not, they will receive a letter in a certain amount of days, then penalties will be sent to the owner in a financial form.”

Langum explains that their rules are supported by Davis Sterling Laws, “which was set up by a group of attorneys that established laws for the state of California homeowners associations and POAs. This is the backbone legal support for us to apply penalties to those who don’t comply. These type of letters have gone out and a few people have been fined.”

There are measures on the upcoming June ballot that, if passed, can change the current ordinance which currently limits individual lots for people to grow up to 12 marijuana plants out of doors and up to 16 immature plants indoors on their property if they are in possession of a doctor’s recommendation. Measure U will require people to grow all marijuana plants indoors.

‘A quagmire’

“It is my understanding,” says Langum, “the way our resolution covers the amount of plants on an individual lot and other requirements that must comply with the county ordinance of also having a well, septic and a county permit for a resident of each individual lot. Then we can bring in law enforcement. This is a quagmire. We don't want to be the police. We rely on the complaints. That makes the residents feel better that they are not being policed by the Board members. This controversy has created a situation where our vacant lots are increasing in value, whereas improved properties have decreased substantially. Banks don't want to loan money where properties are off the grid and the environment around it has massive illegal activities.”

Siskiyou County District 1 Supervisor Brandon Criss said, “I can not emphasize enough how important it is to vote 'yes' on measures T and U to give us the tools to enforce the illegal marijuana growers. We are not after the medical marijuana growers, just the ones that are not following the county ordinances, the large marijuana growers.”

Criss said many counties have already passed measures for growing marijuana indoors. “It is respectful for people who live close to each other. It cuts down on the smell and it also adds a level of security or protection from break-ins. This has worked in Shasta County.”

He says Siskiyou County is “copying Shasta County's ordinance. It has worked there.”

Among those who oppose the measures is a 71 year old McCloud home owner who grows his plants indoors and fears his neighbors because of comments they have made. He said, “It is just one more right that they are taking away from me with Measure U. I pay $1376.00 a year on taxes. Part of that goes to the County Superintendent that tells me what I can or can not do with my own property. This steps on my constitutional rights.”

On May 11, Sheriff Lopey held a town meeting in McCloud on this and other measures that will be on the June ballot. He stated, “We have got to get control of an out of control problem. This is a multifaceted problem. I am not targeting any specific group, I am targeting law breakers.”

Being singled out

There were 75 people in attendance. Among those present was Francis Mua. He is a Hmong who says his family originated from Laos. Mua has property in MSFPOA that he has had for one year, and he claims it is like the high mountains where his family is from. A retired social worker on disability, Mua said he lives half the year in Sacramento. He said he has a doctor’s recommendation to grow 99 plants “five percent of us Hmong grow for the rest of our people here,” he said. He complains that the Hmong people are being singled out.

“It is not fair, it is not just the Hmong people growing,” says Mua. “I don't worry, I follow the guidelines. I have permits for all I am doing. We don't like crime. We make sure we keep our environment clean. We don't want pollution. This is our goal. We want to let people around here know we are good people. We are here for peace. We are not here to create crime, any crime. I am a good citizen. We are not here for free; we bring in business.”

Mua said he “would love to talk and explain more to anyone who wants to know more about us. I originally came to visit an uncle here. It is beautiful here. The weather and high mountains are like our home and suits us. Our grandparents were CIA veterans when we lost the war to South Vietnam. This is why we are here.”

State legislation

The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act is talked about by Elizabeth Tabor who owns Mt. Shasta Patients Collective. “The State is foreseeing where medical marijuana is going to be in the future,” said Tabor. “New state legislation passed making counties have rights to regulate or band marijuana laws with these Measures. But MMRSA will bring in revenue from license and permits. If they modify last year’s ordinance and charge $20 tag per plant to create revenue, this will make law enforcement know who is growing and within the law by having markers on the property. Revenues that Colorado and Oregon anticipated to bring in during the first year were brought in the first month after legalizing it.”

Tabor points out that under Measure U, a 10 by 10 square foot building for growing is not realistic for 6 to 12 plants; Plexiglas or fiberglass won't hold under a snow load; only 6kw power that is allowed will not be enough for growing healthy plants in doors; disabled people can not afford the cost of $24,000 to build this kind of structure on their limited income; and these conditions will make plants more susceptible to mildew.

“This adds up to growing two healthy plants, not 12, under these conditions,” Tabor said.

On Measure T, Tabor points out, “Enforcement on page 7 on the first line, it says, “as of January 1, 2017 it will be illegal without a permit,” without describing what this permit is for or where or how to get it. Measure T permits law enforcement to enter your property without a warrant. Where are my rights here? This violates our constitutional rights.”