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We get a lot of press releases here at the Journal, a steady drip of emails announcing everything from ribbon-cuttings to dance recitals to (let's see what's at top of my inbox here) a Holiday Gift Guide pitch for German-made electric irons. (Eat your heart out, Clark Kent.) Our favorites by far are law enforcement press releases. It's not that we're sadists who relish crime reports. (OK, maybe a little; we're journalists, after all.) It's more about the cadence of those hard-boiled cop compositions — sordid dramas relayed in just-the-facts-ma'am language.

Recently we started noticing a new dramatic thread being woven into releases from the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office: Pot bust reports that used to just list plants, pounds and weapons seized suddenly began enumerating the environmental damage at illegal outdoor grow sites. Scattered rat poisons, seeping fertilizers, illegal timber harvesting and stream diversions have become major characters in these outlaw tales. Was this a calculated attempt to pander to the information gatekeepers in the liberal media?

Not according to Lt. Steve Knight with the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office. He said the department began including environmental information after a wake-up call in the form of a scientific study — namely a 2012 academic paper by UC Davis biologist Mourad Gabriel. His study outlined the effects of rodenticide poisoning on the carnivorous Pacific fisher, a candidate for the endangered species list, and revealed the scale of damage being done by large-scale growers.

"That was the catalyst where everybody went, 'Whoa,'" Knight said.

Local agencies had seen destruction from marijuana grows before, "but not to the scale we're seeing," Knight said, "not with the quantity of marijuana being grown out there, not with the amount of water being sucked from streams, and not when they're running D8 Cats through these creeks and rivers like they are now."

The destruction is particularly irksome in the context of threatened species such as the fisher and the California condor, which the Yurok Tribe and others are working to reintroduce on the North Coast. Following some interagency strategizing, state agencies including Cal Fire and the Department of Fish and Wildlife have been taking a more active role in weed busts, too, often pursuing prosecution for environmental crimes.

"Unfortunately," Knight said with refreshing candor, "the environmental side is primarily misdemeanors, whereas the cultivation's a felony."

Now that's a crime.


Prop. 19 take two? Last week a group called the California Cannabis Hemp & Health Initiative got clearance from the California Secretary of State to start gathering signatures on a petition that could legalize pot at the ballot box next year. The initiative, which would license and tax commercial weed sales and require case-by-case review of nonviolent marijuana convictions, comes on the heels of a new poll by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California showing a record 52 percent of Californians (and 60 percent of likely voters) now favor legalization.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it will hear a case that began with a 2008 pot bust here on the North Coast. CHP officers in Fort Bragg responded to an anonymous 911 call from someone claiming that a Ford F-150 had just run him or her off the road. After finding and following the truck, officers pulled it over and found two brothers and four big bags of weed. At issue is the constitutionality of arresting someone based solely on an anonymous tip.

Bank of America announced last week, after conferring with its lawyer army, that it will accept marijuana-related deposits from the Liquor Control Board in Washington State, where weed-for-fun is now legal. Individual dispensary owners across the country are still shit out of luck, though, disallowed under federal law to use banks.

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About The Author

Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns worked for the Journal from 2008 to 2013, covering a diverse mix of North Coast subjects, from education, politics and marijuana to human suspension, sex parties and amateur fight contests. He won awards for investigative reporting, feature stories and news coverage.

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