Sheriff Honsal: cannabis enforcement is ‘a win’

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – Humboldt County Sheriff Billy Honsal has told the Board of Supervisors that enforcement on illegal, unpermitted cannabis grows intensified this year and the near future will see actions on those who’ve applied for permits without follow-up.

​At their October 22 meeting, supervisors were updated on the county’s enforcement against cannabis growers who are outside of the legal system.

​Honsal reported that this year, there have been 86 search warrants served, over 200,000 plants “eradicated,” almost 40,000 cannabis buds destroyed, 18 arrests and 87 firearms seized.

​Twenty of the search warrants were among the 56 sites referred to the Sheriff’s Office by code enforcement staff and had been given notice on violations, Honsal continued.

​He told supervisors a reduced number of illegal grows is readily observable.

​“We see it – we see it on our flyovers and historically, year after year we have illegal cannabis farms in different areas and we’re flying over and seeing that they’re dormant now,” said Honsal. “And that is what I call a win.”

​The office’s “focus when it comes to enforcement” is unpermitted grows.

​Honsal added that some cannabis permit applicants are “growing and they are in the illicit market” and enforcement actions against them “may be coming sometime in the future.”

​The Sheriff’s Office’s enforcement hasn’t been without controversy. Last month, cannabis farmers told supervisors that deputies had targeted incorrect locations with a heavy-handed approach.

​Honsal contested that. “There’s been a lot of confusion over the years about, ‘We were at the wrong place,’ that there was a licensed cannabis farm that had been contacted – that hasn’t been true this year,” he said. “We have not served a search warrant where there has been a licensed person there.”

​He allowed that “we have approached gates” that block private roads leading to multiple parcels and said that deputies check for permits.

“We’ve told them, ‘If you see us coming, bring out your permits,’” Honsal said. “And sometimes we do stop and we contact them and say, ‘Hey, you got a permit, congratulations, we’re going to move on to this next place over here because that’s the person we actually have the search warrant for.’”

Honsal described deputies’ attitudes as friendly. “We’re always accommodating and saying ‘hi’ to people and making sure that they’re in compliance with the law,” he said. “I think it’s been received well but then, there’s misinformation out there that we were at the wrong location, which is not the case.”

​At last month’s meeting, Supervisor Steve Madrone related negative feedback he’d gotten from people who told him of encounters with deputies. He had said that he’d been told that “there is trashing of houses happening and harassment of individuals and people being cordoned off that are not even on the parcel but walking nearby.”

​But at last week’s meeting, he thanked Honsal and deputies for “all the work you’ve been doing to try to clean up the environmental mess and degradation that’s occurring in our hills.”

​Madrone said his previous comments were “misconstrued” and apologized for “how those remarks might have been taken.” He added that “I fully support your efforts and your deputies.”

​Finally, he said his statements referenced what others were saying, not “my comments about your department” and “I think that got confused in the media and other places.”

​Honsal described community collaboration with the Sheriff’s Office, as some referrals to his office come from permitted farmers. And a community meeting last week in Honeydew was well-attended and Sheriff’s Office staff discussed protective measures and security.

​There were no complaints about enforcement during a public comment session and Terra Carver of the Humboldt County Growers Alliance said the Honeydew meeting showed an unprecedented spirit of collaboration.

​“I’m happy to report it’s harvest season in Humboldt which also means that it’s rip-off season in Humboldt and for the first time that I’m aware of, the community of legal cannabis businesses was able to call on the sheriff and have a discussion about how to protect not only their families but their businesses,” she said.

​She added that “it was nothing short of historic, what happened in Honeydew last week” because “the feedback  I’ve gotten has been from second generation farmers who have been living through the war on drugs and grown up to not trust law enforcement.”

​Some still have reasons to avoid police. Honsal had said that unpermitted growers are increasingly switching to indoor operations, which concerned supervisors due to generator use.

There was discussion about taking actions to limit diesel fuel deliveries but Board Chair Rex Bohn warned that it could lead to dangerous self-hauling of heavy fuel loads.

​Supervisor Mike Wilson said that actions such as making fuel access more difficult will undercut an illegal grower’s ability to compete against the legal market.

​There’s also concern about the light output from unpermitted greenhouses. Honsal said his office has a plan for addressing that.



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