Trinity County Sheriff

Bruce Haney


 

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Sheriff Haney. Photo by Talia Herman.

“We live in the second poorest county in the state. There are very limited employment opportunities. And I think that this is potentially one of those things that people look at as an opportunity to make some money.”

What is your impression of the marijuana farming industry?

We live in the second poorest county in the state. There are very limited employment opportunities. And I think that this is potentially one of those things that people look at as an opportunity to make some money. Is doesn’t take a lot of training, or a degree of any kind. Once you develop the technique its incredibly profitable.

It exchanges one set of stresses for another. They have a fear of getting in trouble, and it is lieu of navigating a more formal world.

If you look back on the history of this county, at one point there were 43 sworn members of the sheriff’s office. That was in 1983. Now there are 18. In 1983 there were 7 operational lumber mills. When the timber industry went away, the revenue source for essential services went away and those things started to diminish. And people with a good working life ahead of them left. There weren’t opportunities. And people who wanted to stay here, they had to survive. And I don’t put that out there as an excuse for those who do this (grow marijuana), the choice is still theirs, but it’s a reason why.

And its so prevalent here. About four years ago we (the Sheriff’s Office) went to an elementary school, and we asked the kids ‘Is marijuana legal?’ and they all said yes. Because it’s everywhere.

It points to a deficit in options for people. Because if so much of the population is participating in this quasi-legal industry, it means there is a lack of options.

Yes. And it means there is a demand for it (marijuana). The demand is obviously quite considerable. I can start by saying I don’t think this is a good product, I don’t. The studies on marijuana and its impacts on developing minds… it’s not a good product. But people want it.

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Photo by Talia Herman.

Well, it’s similar to alcohol in that it can have negative impacts.

Chronic use of anything is not good. The occasional user, that makes sense, it’s one thing. The occasional user of marijuana is not going to see a big impact, but overuse is destructive.

What do you think would be a good regulatory outcome?

I think ultimately it needs to be treated as an agricultural product. Because if people are using toxins and rodenticides and consumers think they’re getting a natural product that’s a problem. It’s like if you go down to the Central Valley, those farmers down there are very regulated. They are inspected to make sure they’re not using certain pesticides. But we don’t have a regulated agricultural product. The consumers think that they’re getting an organic product [And in some cases I’m sure they are] and others they’re not. Toxins are being used…

And enforcement is essential. If we had an abatement process (earlier), I don’t think we’d be looking at what we’re looking at right now. I don’t know for sure, but it’s a guess.

Do you think that people now understand the regulations and laws of the system they are working in?

They may not. And at the same time, whether it would be effective or not, the county needs to educate the people. You know, sending out notices or something. Code enforcement, when we first started doing it abatement, we had to figure out a lot of the system ourselves. Crime is cut and dry, we know the loss of this and they did that so boom they go. But the civil stuff was a whole different thing.  But we took it on. What I think will be surprising is when I finally give the final statistics of the majority of code stuff. From what I can see generally, a lot of the problems aren’t marijuana, they’re other stuff. It’s excessive trash, it’s RVs, and it’s not having proper connection to a septic system. So it’s not just that one thing.

When they are operating in a community where marijuana farming is so widespread, and they have personal relationships, is it difficult for your officers to address the issue of marijuana cultivation?

No, not at all. That’s what we do. The reality is the way the law is written right now is that marijuana is still a crime. The 215 card is a defense in court. So in other words, a doctor has decided for whatever your condition is you can grow this much marijuana. But the reality, [and I’ve told people this] is that if you have one plant we can arrest you. It’s still illegal. Now what are we going to arrest you? No. It would be a waste of everyone’s time.

 I’ll put it to you this way, and I think I said it the other night– these guys are chomping at the bit to go out and get some of this (illegal marijuana growing) – I mean it’s in their neighborhoods. They would like to do that, but we’re not going to pick ones that are next to them, because in other words the way it’s set up right now, we’re only going to be able to do so many. So we want to get the most egregious, right?  We want to take them to court, and make them pay, and go out and be able to yank their plants.  I think the message needs to be sent. The reason why we’re in the boat that we are in right now is because that message has never been sent to anyone.

What’s your opinion on the current complaint based abatement regulatory system? Does it seem like it can be emotionally based for people that just don’t like their neighbors rather than a system that actually prioritizes the most egregious offenders?

The reason why we’ve continued to go with the complaint driven process is that if we don’t do that where do we start? They’re (marijuana grows) everywhere.

Why couldn’t you just prioritize huge ones? 

Yeah, but a lot of times it’s not always that simple. In fact I was talking to one of our narcotics guys today and he said is there a way to – do you think the board of supervisors would be willing to go up in a helicopter? I said yes, some might, yeah I would imagine why? He said that last year Trinity Pines was completely out of control. You need to see it now and they need to see it.

But how come you can’t just target the big ones then? If you’re able to fly over and see these big grows that have three hundred or five hundred plants? 

You’re not going to find those anymore. Very rarely, like we found one recently with sixteen hundred, that guy is stupid. That was stupid.

Most of them didn’t look that big? 

No, what these people have done is –like most criminal enterprises do– adapt to our tactics. It was not uncommon too long ago to see gardens from three hundred to six hundred plants, that was not uncommon. But they saw that we are hammering those ones, that we were on them, so what they did is diversify. The strategy is ‘I’ll buy a little parcel here and put twenty-five in, and then I’ll buy one over here and put forty, and then I’ll buy one over here and put maybe sixty-five.’  And again, great business tactic, right? If you come in and get one of them – they have two or three more over here. Because they know we can’t get them all.

“I look at it this way, there’s a demand for the product, and again I don’t think it’s a good one, but you have a demand. People want to use it. The battle to stop it hasn’t been successful. So, what is the next step? What is the responsible thing to do?”

It makes we wonder, what is the attitude in Washington now that so many states have recognized marijuana as medicinal? Because you cant ignore what’s happening. I look at it this way, there’s a demand for the product, and again I don’t think it’s a good one, but you have a demand. People want to use it. The battle to stop it hasn’t been successful. So, what is the next step? What is the responsible thing to do?