REVIEW OF CIVIL LIBERTIES HOUR INTERVIEW WITH D A GALLEGOS
FOCUS ON ASPECTS CONCERNING LARGE MARIJUANA GROWS
by CLMP office monitor, Suzelle
Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos was interviewed on the Civil Liberties Hour on KMUD Redwood Community Radio on September 4th by CLMP host Bonnie Blackberry. Questions concerned challenges of jail realignment and budgetary concerns, priorities in the prosecution of marijuana growing, the categories of criminal offenses, jury nullification, civil disobedience, the DA's political philosophy, the difference between "nuisance" and "nuisance per se," and the prosecution of homeless campers.
This article presents the aspects of the conversation having to do with prioritizing the environmental consequences of marijuana growing. The first caller asked the District Attorney, "What involvement do you have in deciding the priorities for law enforcement action? And how do you and your staff prioritize what you are going to prosecute?" She illustrated her concerns by telling about three law enforcement actions on marijuana grows on her creek which involved resource protection and regulatory agencies coming in. The one grow that was very much the largest was visited in March, between growing seasons, she said, and "was issued a Draft Clean-up and Abatement Order by the CA Water Board to repair some of the damage caused by clearing and leveling six acres, filling in streams, and sediment getting into tributaries. But that's not nearly as serious as being prosecuted for illegal growing of marijuana. And we're concerned with water use: the larger grows use far more water." And she asked, "Is law enforcement afraid to go after the really big grows?"
Gallegos listed her questions as he understood them, and continued: "The priorities of our office always have to be first and foremost public safety. Crimes of violence will always be in there. Environmental crimes are a priority because to me they affect public safety--without clean water, clean air, clean soil, etc., everyone's life and their safety is in danger. So, Crimes of violence, first, large priority; and crimes that affect the community-at-large; environmental, certainly a high priority, but they may not get the priority of a direct attack on individuals in the community: murders, rapes, robbery, and that sort.
"So, marijuana cultivation, just like any sort of activity, has an environmental impact. Marijuana cultivation, because it's been legalized largely in the State of California but unregulated, the marijuana cultivation has been allowed to proliferate without perceived regulation, without the resources necessary to do the sort of paradigm shift into looking not at the marijuana cultivation as much as, okay, focusing on these environmental impacts. For the 14 years that we've had medical marijuana the discussion has been on the law of medical marijuana as opposed to regulating it, putting in place necessary means so we can reduce the negative impact, the ancillary impact, of this thing associated with it. So, marijuana proliferated because of the legality largely in the State of California but its continued illegality outside the State of California. The price of marijuana went down. People started growing more. More people came into the State and Humboldt to grow. So what we have is a rapidly expanding production industry in our county, once again without regulation.
"The regulations are done by various environmental regulatory agencies, of course, then the Sheriff's Office, the Drug Task Force, the Federal Government, and we [the District Attorney's Office] enforce them. For those arrests, investigations are done; they are forwarded to our office for review for prosecution. If there is sufficient evidence to charge, we charge. We prosecute, and those people are forced to clean up. Seized assets are forfeited. They are generally not sent to jail and prison; they are placed on probation, depending on the nature of what they are doing. And, we hope that it doesn't continue."
Blackberry interjected, "Yeah, they're placed on probation but there's nobody that is going to check on them while they're on probation." (Earlier in the interview she had said she heard the Probation Department was really swamped, and Gallegos had agreed that realignment has added a huge workload, that County departments are swamped in general, and lack of resources is affecting the departments' abilities to perform.)
The District Attorney continued: "And the reality is people growing marijuana know that, really if the Sheriff's Office did nothing other than eradicate, if no other law enforcement agency did anything except for marijuana eradication, they simply couldn't, they don't have the resources to address all the marijuana that's being grown. And then the question is: What is the best way to address it? Is it the criminal prosecution? Where there is presumption, and the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, convincing twelve jurors, because the defendants are entitled to 5th Amendment, all those things? Or are administrative remedies a more realistic way to address it, when you have some of these agencies like Water Quality go in and give citations? Certainly no one's going to jail. But what the Water Quality people are doing is they're promptly addressing the environmental issues and saying, 'Fix it or else.' If they don't fix it, that can still be forwarded to our offices for prosecution, and it will be."
Blackberry asked, "So, out of these environmental harm cases, how many have you prosecuted in the last year?"
Gallegos responded, "I couldn't give you a number. I can tell you that we're just now starting to get the cases where the environmental harm investigations are done. So what happens is: as we've been meeting with the agencies, saying, 'Look! Here's what we need,' there's been a shift, if you will, from the traditional investigation: 'I went there, there's this much marijuana, these are the people that were there,' to 'I went there, there was this much marijuana, we also looked for poisons, we also called Water Quality, we called Fish & Wildlife, all these other people, and together we pulled these things together.' That has just recently started to happen. And, gross numbers I couldn't give you, but frankly for years we've been pushing it. For years, whenever we could get a case that had evidence to prosecute along those lines, we have. And now we've had quite a few joint operations where we have those environmental cases presented with the marijuana case. And we're able to get that clean up, the forfeiture, and the things necessary to stop the environmental harm."
Blackberry asked, "Forfeiture means taking the property?"
Gallegos clarified, "We don't take the real property. The Feds might, we don't. Now, what we do is: certainly those proceeds we've established are illegal, those are seized. But what we put in place is either a civil judgment, so that they have to fix it, or the terms of probation are that they fix it and they come back periodically to the courts to show that they have remedied their harm."