Will Cannabis Breathalyzers Really Work? Probably Not. Here’s Why:

Cannabis breathalyzers are being made right now, but will they really work? Probably not, but let’s take a look at them. Cannabis breathalyzers work much like their alcohol counterparts. Hound Labs, one of the companies trying to commercialize this new tech, is developing a simple-to-use breathalyzer device. A person blows into a small tube, and […]

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South Carolina Lawmakers Fight Cannabis Smell Search Law

Catching a whiff of a weed shouldn’t be enough for probable cause, and South Carolina lawmakers want to make sure it no longer is. That’s the thinking behind a bill offered up by a Democratic lawmaker in South Carolina.

State House Representative Deon Tedder “is pushing for a bill where the scent of marijuana alone would not provide law enforcement with reasonable suspicion or probable cause to support a stop, search, seizure or arrest,” according to local television station WSPA.

“The smell alone is not enough to be considered an illegal act because the accused could’ve been around someone who was illegally using marijuana or legally using hemp and both substances smell the same,” Tedder said, as quoted by the station.

“It’s a fishing expedition is what I call it,” he continued. “It just allows for them to search for things, so I think that this bill will take care of that and stop certain bad actors on police forces from doing a fishing expedition because then they could just go look for anything.”

The station reported that the bill “would stop a person or motor vehicle from being stopped or searched based solely on the scent of marijuana, cannabis or hemp, whether burnt or not,” and that it would not “stop an officer from searching a vehicle if someone appears under the influence.”

Tedder, a Democrat from Charleston, was motivated to propose the legislation because he believes “most people stopped and searched in South Carolina are African American males who were stopped because an officer allegedly smelled marijuana,” according to the station.

The bill might have an uphill climb in the state’s general assembly, where Republicans hold large majorities in each chamber.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, a Republican, has said that he is opposed to legalizing recreational pot.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” McMaster said last year. “It’s not helpful.” 

South Carolina is currently one of only 14 states that has not legalized medical cannabis, although McMaster has said he is potentially amenable to the policy.

“That’s a different story, and there may be some answers there,” he said last summer. “I know there’s a lot of suffering that is helped with medical marijuana.”

McMaster will be up for re-election this year. One potential challenger, Democratic congressman Joe Cunningham, has made it clear that he intends to run on legalization. 

“This is going to be a game changer in South Carolina,” Cunningham said last year of legalizing recreational and medical cannabis in the state. “There are so many reasons why we need to do this, and the time is now.”

“People are behind it, and politicians need to get behind it, too,” Cunningham added.

He might have a point.

A poll released last year by the Marijuana Policy Project found that 72 percent of South Carolina voters support “allowing patients in [the state] who suffer from serious medical conditions to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it,” while only 15 percent were opposed.

The absence of a medical cannabis law is not due to a lack of trying.

Legislators in South Carolina have taken a stab at medical cannabis bills in recent years. In late 2020, a Republican state senator there introduced the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, which would have legalized medical marijuana for the following qualifying conditions: cancer; multiple sclerosis; neurological disease; sickle cell anemia; glaucoma; PTSD; autism; Crohn’s disease; ulcerative colitis; cachexia; conditions that cause people to stay home chronically, be chronically nauseous or have persistent muscle spasms; a chronic medical condition requiring opiates and terminal diseases where the patient has a year or less to live.

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Pair of Cops Booked After Being Caught Smoking Pot in Mississippi

According to a Flowood Police Department news release, which was posted on Facebook, two rookie police officers from the Jackson County Police Department in Mississippi were charged with possession of cannabis and paraphernalia after being caught smoking weed, in the act. The Clarion Ledger first reported the arrests of the two officers—both of whom just finished police academy.

Kenya Shardae McCarty and Darius Jamal Short were off-duty at the time, relaxing and puffing by a pond, minding their own business, when they were spotted and approached by officers from another division. 

Officers with the Flowood Police Department in Mississippi responded to reports of two people smoking weed at the Nature Trail Park at about 5:45 p.m. on December 17. Flowood’s Park Trail includes an elevated walkway—the perfect place to toke. 

Instead of letting the fellow cops off, the Flowood Police officers arrested and booked them. The two cops were charged with possession of cannabis and an open container violation, Flowood Police officials said, and they were given a court date for the charges. The officers were also in possession of two firearms, which is not unusual for an off-duty police officer.

“On December 17, 2021 officers were dispatched to the Nature Trail Park of Flowood in reference to individuals smoking marijuana,” the news release reads. “Officers arrived and located two subjects inside the park near the pond. The subjects were identified as Darius Jamal Short B/M and Kenya Shardae McCarty B/F. The officers located a small amount of marijuana on a bench where the two were seated. Officers also took possession of a firearm which was present on the table.”

The release continues, “A second firearm was also recovered along with open containers and marijuana paraphernalia. The subjects were transported to headquarters for booking on the charges of Possession of Marijuana and Open Container Violation. The subjects were given a court date for above charges. These two individuals are recent graduates of the Jackson Police Academy and are currently employed by the Jackson Police Department.”

Meanwhile—Flowood Police Department is being sued by a man who said they sicced a K9 on him three times, in a separate incident a few years ago. That case escalated to a $5 million federal lawsuit.

“Such a waste of resources,” the top comment on the Facebook post reads. “Legalize weed, let them go, and move on.”

Per Mississippi law, possession of 30 or less grams of cannabis is punishable by up to three years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $3,000.  

Instead of reprimanding them, Jackson Police Department Chief James Davis defended the behavior of his officers, explaining that they were off-duty at the time. Davis did not confirm whether the police officers were placed on administrative leave or are subject to any other type of punishment beyond the Flowood Police charges. “If an officer did something off duty, that’s their personal life,” he said

The maximum penalty for a first-time offender in possession of 30 grams or less of cannabis in Mississippi is a maximum $250 fine, Whitt Law Firm explains. Anything above 30 grams is a different story, however, and is elevated to a felony.

Possession of up to 250 grams is punishable by one to three years in jail and a $1,000 fine, while five kilograms or more of cannabis can result in a maximum penalty of 10 to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine, according to the NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).

Lots of cops are smoking or selling pot around the country, and occasionally they get caught. A Cincinnati police dispatcher in Ohio was one of six people arrested for hundreds of pounds of pot in 2017. The next year a patrol officer with the Paterson Police Department in New Jersey was caught selling pot and many other drugs to an undercover federal informant.

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OKC Connection: Where Does America’s Illegal Cannabis Come From?

Just as it was since Richard Nixon and the dawn of the War on Drugs, almost a decade into the United States’ experiment with marijuana legalization, cannabis remains America’s favorite illicit drug. This is because—according to police, politicians, and most everyone in the struggling, overtaxed and underperforming legal cannabis industry—the majority of the cannabis consumed in the country is still “illegal.”

Most of what the roughly 45 million Americans who used cannabis in the last year, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, used cannabis produced and sold outside of the legal marketplace: away from taxes, away from regulators, and—to hear law enforcement tell it—in the clutches of dangerous multinational criminal organizations (whom the police never can seem to catch, despite bust after bust after bust!).

The remarkably resilient status quo here begs a question: These days, where is the illegal weed coming from? And should you care?

Mistrust the Police

For some, marijuana legalization meant the end of the underground cannabis trade (although in fairness, legalization advocates rarely—if ever—said this; what they said was that legalization would create a competing regulated market). In retrospect, this was an ambitious but unrealistic over-promise. Halting alcohol prohibition didn’t end the mob any more than it discouraged bootleggers from evading taxes and the law.

Due to a combination of over-taxation and over-regulation, bootleg cannabis is often simply cheaper and easier to access. Though some $17.5 billion worth of legal weed was sold in the United States in 2020, as per Forbes, the illicit market is anywhere from three to eight times larger, depending on whose estimate you choose to believe. (And, if you ask some connoisseurs, because some legacy growers who have been producing top-end cannabis for decades have been shut out of the legal market, illicit cannabis may in some cases be better.)

But to hear police tell it, every state is the country’s leading trap state, as long as it’s their state (and thus their job to do something about it, a task that requires an ever-growing portion of your tax dollars).

Sooner Kush

Ever since Oklahoma legalized medical marijuana and opened what’s considered the most laissez-faire cannabis marketplace in America—it’s very easy to obtain a medical recommendation, and only slightly more difficult to get a license to cultivate and sell—the state Bureau of Narcotics has claimed that the Sooner State has become the nation’s top trap state, with as much as 60 percent of that pot destined for the illicit market, mostly by organized crime.

“You’ve got the cartel; you’ve got the Chinese drug ring; you’ve got the biker gangs,” as Oklahoma state Rep. Josh West told a Tulsa newspaper. “Pretty much every criminal organization is operating in the state of Oklahoma right now.”

That sounds scary—but as usual, hard facts are hard to come by. (Oklahoma newspapers are full of reports of neighbors complaining about “Chinese-speaking newcomers” growing pot; as POLITICO and other media reported, at least some of these are simply Americans with Chinese last names getting started in a new industry.)

But according to cannabis industry advocates and players, there’s reason to believe Oklahoma cannabis is absolutely reaching the growing demand in East Coast markets once supplied by legacy West Coast states like California and Oregon. For one, prices on both the legal and illegal markets are dropping in those states—signs that there’s competition coming from somewhere. And logic dictates that a state physically closer to high-demand markets may be better positioned to supply those markets.

“It’s hard to get any real facts about the Oklahoma thing, but I definitely know we’re getting stuff [in New York] from Oklahoma,” said Allan Gandelman, the co-founder of a New York state organic hemp farm and president of the New York State Cannabis Growers and Processors Association. (New York, though a very established cannabis marketplace, traditionally has been an importing state, and so may be a decent bellwether of trap patterns nationwide.)

“For people shipping out of state, the northeast is a lot closer to Oklahoma than it is to California,” he added. “That’s what happens when you have an almost totally unregulated market.”

But figuring out which state supplies the underground market also requires identifying the underground market. According to NORML, the states with the highest per-capita cannabis consumption are Oregon, Colorado, Vermont, Maine, and Alaska.

All of those states allow adult-use cannabis (though Vermont does not have retail dispensaries).

And both Oregon and Colorado have been identified by law enforcement as havens for illegal trafficking—again, due to the fact that legalization makes it relatively easy (or at least legal) to grow weed there. Oregon also has lower labor and land costs than California—so much so that it’s rumored Oregon cannabis floats south across the border to enter the California legal market.

Though cannabis consumers are everywhere, the country’s most sophisticated—and thirstiest—consumer marketplace is its oldest marketplace. And that’s a very familiar usual suspect.

According to state lawmakers, California’s illicit cannabis market is five times bigger than the legal market. One simple cause is that adult-use legalization made several thousand existing medical-marijuana retailers illegal, in part because of new permit fees and taxes, but also because of new zoning and licensing restrictions. But the effect is that there’s significant domestic demand for cannabis in a state that also produces it.

All that demand had to go somewhere—so it went underground. Note that the nation’s biggest illicit pot busts by volume all seem to happen in California. Over the summer, Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva claimed his deputies had busted what he described as a billion-dollar cannabis grow out in the Mojave Desert. In October, drug agents in the San Francisco Bay Area reported what they described as that region’s biggest-ever bust. Where is all this weed going? Some of it is going out of state, surely. But some of it is also surely supplying the domestic demand that the legal market can’t meet.

Demand is also related in part to branding. California has decades of cultural and marketing power behind it; the same can’t be said (yet) for Oklahoma Kush (though consumer choice is also dictating by price points). At high-end cannabis speakeasies in New York City, shelves are stocked with jars and bags bearing names of familiar West Coast brands—and if the cannabis inside is an imitator, it’s a talented impersonator.

But can this really be known—and does it really matter? Without quantification, the exact origin of the U.S.’s off-market weed can’t ever be “known” in the way the market for wine grapes and other commodities is “known.” And until legal cannabis can reliably compete with illegal cannabis on price and availability, there will always be an appetite for trap cannabis—no matter where it comes from.

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Man to be Hanged in Singapore for Importing About Two Pounds of Pot

A man who imported one kilogram of cannabis (about 2.2 pounds) from Malaysia into Singapore in 2018 is set to hang after his appeal against the conviction and sentence was dismissed by the Apex Court on Tuesday, October 12.

Channel News Asia reports that Singaporean Omar Yacob Bamadhaj, 41, was sentenced to death in February after being convicted of one count of importing cannabis into Singapore. Bamadhaj was caught smuggling three bundles containing at least one kilogram of cannabis.

The country’s zero-tolerance policy for drugs has led to the hangings of hundreds of people, including dozens of foreigners. 

During a routine border checkpoint at Woodlands Checkpoint late in the night on July 12, 2018, police discovered the bundles Bamadhaj was carrying. His father drove the vehicle, but was found to be unaware of the cannabis bundles.

The Alleged Crime

Bamadhaj agreed to smuggle the cannabis—a Class A drug in Singapore—two days earlier on July 10, 2018 and collected three bundles wrapped in newspapers a day later near a mosque. Bamadhaj allegedly obtained the packages from two friends, Din and Latif. Bamadhaj first said that he agreed to deliver the packages and then said he did not know what they contained.

When asked why there were differences in his accounts, Bamadhaj reportedly replied, “I said that because I was not at the right state of mind. I was feeling high from the stick I had smoked with Din. High to me is like being semi-conscious.”

On Tuesday, Bamadhaj’s lawyer Hassan Esa Almenoar said there was reasonable doubt as to whether Bamadhaj imported the drugs knowingly or not, and said it was “difficult to conclude that he planned all this”.

Bamadhaj argued that the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers had coerced him into admitting to the crime, threatening him, saying, “If you refuse to admit to this, I will throw both you and your father to be hanged.”

Tourists who smoke pot may be in for a bit of culture clash if they choose to visit Singapore—a famously intolerant country with penalties for drugs reaching up to death by hanging. Singapore applies corporal and capital punishments to foreigners—going beyond what other drug-free countries do.

In  2016, when a Nigerian named Chijioke Obioha was hanged in Singapore for possession of 2.6 kilograms of pot.

Singapore and Cannabis

Some countries in Asia are exceptionally intolerant when it comes to drugs. In 2014, Jackie Chan’s son Jaycee did six months of hard time in jail after being busted with 100 grams of cannabis in China. But Singapore’s punishments for drugs make China’s punishments look like a cake walk.

In Singapore, you can be jailed for failing to flush the toilet. Business Insider published an article in 2012, entitled “How to Travel in Singapore Without Getting Caned.” It listed other serious Singaporean “offenses” including selling gum or sipping water on a train. Or standing too close to a child. One graffiti vandal, Mas Selamat bin Kastari, for instance, was slapped with “a terror plot” for political stencil graffiti.

Singapore is one of the worst places on the planet to get caught with pot. Singapore courts can dish out the death penalty to anyone caught with over 500 grams of cannabis—around 1,000 joints. 

Singapore also does hesitate to punish foreigners if they are caught with drugs, unlike other drug-free nations such as Saudi Arabia or China. In those countries, a foreigner caught with drugs would most likely be deported instead.

Singapore doesn’t even need evidence of drug possession to jail a foreigner. Singapore might be the world’s only country that will require drug tests to foreign nationals and then arrest anyone who fails the test.

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Former Cop Pleads Guilty to Accepting $14K in Bribes in Pot Trafficking Case

One corrupt police officer in California who pleaded guilty to accepting bribes spun a web of lies and deception worthy of a Breaking Bad episode.

On September 7, Rudolph Petersen, 34, pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge for accepting at least $14,000 in cash from a drug trafficker in exchange for escorting massive shipments of pot and other drugs, and searching a police database to supply the trafficker information on suspected snitches, according to  a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Petersen, who served as a Montebello Police Department for about four years, solicited and received several large-sum cash bribes from an alleged gang member and drug trafficker, according to his plea agreement. Prosecutors say Petersen admitted to taking a total of $14,000 in cash bribes since 2018—mostly for transporting a U-Haul filled with weed and sniffing out people suspected of cooperating with other police.

Peterson was the guy on the inside, who had access to sensitive information about plea deals and the individuals involved.

Federal prosecutors say a drug trafficker, identified only as “co-schemer 2,” told Petersen he’d be placed “on his payroll” during a dinner in 2018, and gave him $500 through a middle man. 

“Three months later, Petersen—who was armed and wearing a security guard uniform that resembled an official police uniform—successfully escorted a white U-Haul truck containing what Petersen believed was illegally grown marijuana from Fontana to a location off California State Route 60 near Rowland Heights,” the report reads. “Petersen returned to the residence of Co-Schemer 2, who gave him a paper bag filled with $10,000 in cash. Petersen admitted to escorting at least one additional drug shipment for Co-Schemer 2.”

Petersen also admitted to escorting at least one other drug shipment, prosecutors said.

Additionally, Petersen fessed up to using a law enforcement database to collect information on an individual whom Co-Schemer 2 called a “snitch” who had allegedly helped law enforcement intercept a cocaine shipment. 

For a bribery charge of $500-1,000 per database search, Petersen delivered information about the “snitch” individual to Co-Schemer 2, plus information on others suspected of snitching as well.

Police say that in September 2020, Co-Schemer 2 paid Petersen $1,000 to determine if tracking devices found on vehicles that he and another co-schemer used were planted by a state or federal law enforcement investigation. Petersen admitted to accepting at least $14,000 in bribes.

United States District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. scheduled a sentencing hearing for January 11, 2022, when Petersen will face a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.

Homeland Security Investigations investigated this matter. Assistant United States Attorney Ian V. Yanniello of the International Narcotics, Money Laundering and Racketeering Section is prosecuting this case.

More Alleged Bribes in Central California’s Cannabis Industry

Unfortunately, Petersen’s case isn’t alone in the central California area when it comes to corruption from law enforcement and other people in power, such as public officials.

In February 2019, The FBI investigated whether public officials in Sacramento, California accepted bribes in return for favorable treatment for applicants for licenses to operate cannabis businesses in the city.

Sacramento officials investigated how cannabis business owner Garib Karapetyan and his associates have been able to amass eight licenses to operate dispensaries in the city—one-third of the number of retailers. 

One of Karapetyan’s partners, Ukrainian businessmen Andrey Kukushkin, was one of four men indicted by federal prosecutors for involvement in a scheme.

Even former President Donald Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani was implicated at some point in the case. Two other men indicted in the case, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, are also associates of Rudy Giuliani.

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Granny Flips Off Police in Mugshot After Cannabis Farm Bust

When law enforcement officers searched an elderly woman’s house and farm last Monday in Jackson County, Tennessee, they got more than they bargained for.

Peggy Brewington told officers that there was “maybe an ounce” of pot on her farm before officers searched the premises and found dozens of cannabis plants and 20 pounds of flower.

After Drug Task Force officers booked the woman, she flipped off the camera for her mugshot as a token of defiance. 

On August 30, the 15th Drug Task Force and Jackson County Sheriff’s Office conducted a search on the property after slowly building a case against her. Three days earlier, on August 27, Brewington was arrested for trespassing. The 15th judicial district Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force covers Trousdale, Smith, Macon, Jackson and Wilson Counties in Tennessee.

Photo courtesy of the 15th Drug Task Force Tennessee.

Officers confronted Brewington and asked how much pot was in the residence. Brewington replied, “maybe about an ounce.” Once the search was completed, officers recovered around 20 pounds of flower from the residence and approximately 40 cannabis plants from the property. 

A second search was conducted at a nearby residence and more growing marijuana and processed cannabis was recovered. All drug cases will be presented to the Jackson County Grand Jury. Agencies assisting with the search were the TBI and THP Eradication Task Force.

“Officers recovered over 20 pounds of marijuana from the residence and approximately 40 marijuana plants from the property,” the post reads. “A second search was conducted at a nearby residence and more growing marijuana and processed marijuana was recovered. All drug cases will be presented to the Jackson County Grand Jury.”

bust
Photo courtesy of the 15th Drug Task Force Tennessee.

The officers at 15th Drug Task Force Tennessee—a government organization—posted three additional photos of lush cannabis plants being ripped from the soil on her farm and tossed in bags like trash.

Brewington was arrested, and promptly flipped off the camera in her mugshot, which is likely to go viral. In line with other cannabis-related arrest posts, reactions were mixed, and many commenters questioned if the streets are any safer without a nonviolent elderly woman growing pot in peace.

Marijuana in Tennessee is a Bust, So Far

As noted by some concerned commenters on the post of the arrest, “a law is a law,” and it’s illegal to grow cannabis, especially in the amounts Ms. Brewington was growing. Medical and adult-use cannabis cultivation and sales are illegal in the state. But that’s likely to change in Tennessee, possibly sooner than later.

Representative Bruce Griffey, a Republican representing District 75, introduced House Bill 1634 last month, slated for the 2022 ballot in the state. 

Tennessee still does not have a cannabis industry, and is only one of 14 states that still does not have some type of medical system in place. Call it an “island of prohibition.”

Senate Bill 854 was sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling and would have legalized medical cannabis for certain patients and developed a Medical Cannabis Commission that would have regulated the production and sale of cannabis. While the Senate Government Operations Committee approved the bill back in March, it was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee later that month.

Tennessee voters consistently support cannabis according to polls, but the state doesn’t have a voter initiative process. That means only elected officials can change state law, so the ballot initiative for 2022 won’t complete the entire process of legalization. For now, people like Brewington will have to resort to other, law-abiding hobbies.

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California Congressman Bulldozes Hmong Cannabis Farmers’ Crops

When U.S. gymnast Suni Lee won gold at the Tokyo Olympics last month, she also won rare headlines for her people — the Hmong.

A highland people of the Southeast Asian nation of Laos, the Hmong famously fought in CIA-aided tribal militias against the communist insurgents in the 1960s. When the communists took power in 1975, the Hmong faced persecution, and many came to the United States as refugees. They mostly settled in the Great Lakes states; gold medalist Suni Lee is from Minnesota.

A large community landed in Fresno, Calif. Over the past generation, many have been making their way from Fresno up to rugged and remote Siskiyou County, abutting the Oregon border. With this move, the Hmong are putting their ancestral knowledge as a highland agricultural people to new use: They’re growing cannabis. But Hmong cannabis farmers increasingly find themselves stigmatized and criminalized by the political establishment in Siskiyou. In recent weeks, the situation has approached a boiling point.

Congressman in a Bulldozer

On July 20, social media users were treated to the bizarre spectacle of a congressman at the controls of a bulldozer, destroying unlicensed cannabis plots in Siskiyou. The videos were posted to YouTube by the office of Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA). In a blatant publicity stunt, the videos show LaMalfa behind the wheel of the ‘dozer back in May, joining in with Sheriff’s deputies to demolish an unlicensed greenhouse.

But, as Politico noted, advocates for local growers said the timing of the videos was problematic. The videos surfaced in the immediate wake of the death of Soobleej Kaub Hawj, the 35-year-old Hmong man who was shot dead by police on June 28 during the evacuation of local communities due to the devastating Lava Fire. Barely veiled racism was evident in LaMalfa’s patter to the camera. “I love the smell of diesel power in the afternoon. It smells like victory,” he says in one of the videos, riffing off a quote from Vietnam War movie “Apocalypse Now.” 

In a statement released with the four videos, LaMalfa accused the growers of being organized criminals with dirty practices: “Trash, illegally used pesticides, human waste and fuel cover the ground that has been scraped bare of organic matter with nothing but dust left,” he said. “Nothing about the organized criminal grows in Siskiyou County is legal. These grow sites are destroying our environment. Local wildlife is now nonexistent in the area. This level of criminality cannot be tolerated.” 

An attorney for the Hmong growers, J. Raza Lawrence, gave a statement to the press in response to LaMalfa’s stunt. He said the congressman’s YouTube proclamation “sounds like a divisive message that’s likely to inflame the tensions instead of making them better.”

Mounting Crackdown on Illicit Cultivation

There is much unlicensed cannabis growing in Siskiyou, where outdoor cultivation is entirely banned by county ordinance. On June 20, just a week and a day before the murder of Hawj, Sheriff’s deputies carried out raids in the Mount Shasta Vista area, uncovering and destroying nearly 8,000 plants, along with 52 pounds of processed marijuana. A firearm was also reportedly confiscated. 

Several people were detained, although only two were formally arrested. In the past seven weeks, the Sheriff’s Office said it had eradicated over 30,000 plants. The Sheriff’s Office has also been aggressively enforcing a new county ordinance that prohibits water trucks from delivering to suspected grow sites. Citing the long drought conditions in the region, it additionally places restrictions on use of pumped groundwater in off-parcel plots.

Its passage in May also sparked a protest by local Hmong in Yreka. Demonstrators held signs reading “We need water,” “Stop discriminatory harassment,” and “Asian American lives matter.” Activists said the ordinance specifically targeted Hmong properties — and that it was passed by the Board of Supervisors with racist intent. This is of course denied by Sheriff LaRue. 

Hawj was originally from Kansas City and had moved to Siskiyou recently to help his family. It hasn’t yet been determined if he was growing cannabis, and of course it is unknown how many of the county’s some 4,000 Hmong are involved in cannabis cultivation.

Protests in Yreka

Siskiyou’s usually sleepy county seat of Yreka saw a rare protest demonstration, as hundreds of Hmong and their supporters gathered in the streets July 17 to demand justice for Hawj. A new group called Siskiyou Hmong Americans United 4 Justice organized the vigil and march through downtown Yreka. 

“We are right now facing racism against our community; myself, I am Hmong, all our people here are Hmong people,” activist Paula Yang told local KOBI-TV. She drove up from Fresno to participate in the rally.

“We don’t even know where our deceased, our loved one, is at. It’s been 20 days,” she added with clear anguish. “Typically, in my culture, we have to bring our deceased home so we can do a proper burial.” 

Another Hmong community activist, Zurg Xiong, launched a public hunger strike on the steps of the Yreka courthouse. In a social media statement released about the strike, he says,  “I’m giving a voice because we’ve been denied a voice.”

Xiong broke his fast after 19 days on July 23, when California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced he would open an investigation into the killing of Hawj.

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