Written by Associated Press
(AP) — A federal judge has ruled Northern California county officials can’t stop trucks from delivering water to Hmong cannabis farmers, saying the practice raises “serious questions” about racial discrimination and leaves the growers without a source of water for drinking, bathing and growing food.
Chief U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller last week issued a temporary injunction against Siskiyou County’s prohibition on trucked-in water deliveries to Hmong farmers growing marijuana in the Mount Shasta Vista subdivision in the Big Springs area north of the town of Weed.
“Without an injunction, the plaintiffs and other members of the Shasta Vista Hmong community will likely go without water for their basic needs and will likely lose more plants and livestock,” she wrote in the ruling issued last Friday.
“The plaintiffs have also raised serious questions about their constitutional right to be free from racial discrimination,” she added.
Mueller’s injunction takes effect immediately and will remain in place until the conclusion of a federal lawsuit filed by the Hmong community against county ordinances aimed at cutting off the water supply to illegal marijuana grows. They allege the ordinances were racially motivated and violated their civil rights. No trial date has been scheduled, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Authorities estimate there are 5,000 to 6,000 greenhouses growing pot in the Big Springs area, with as many as 4,000 to 8,000 people tending them, most of them Hmong and immigrants of Chinese descent who have moved to the area in the last five years.
Siskiyou County officials this spring approved ordinances that prohibit selling well water without a permit and ban water trucks on the roads leading to the subdivision.
The permit forms are all written in English despite a language barrier for some residents, and the county requires anyone who signs an application to swear not to violate any county rules, which Mueller notes includes not having a proper water supply at their homes.
The ordinances were enacted after residents complained the expansion of the greenhouses was leading to local wells going dry and officials said there was a rise in violent crime.
The judge did leave in place a county ordinance that prohibits selling well water specifically for illegal cannabis cultivation. The injunction only covers water sales and deliveries for residents’ needs such as bathing and gardening, said Allison Margolin, one of the attorneys for the Hmong.
Siskiyou County’s attorney, Edward Kiernan, didn’t immediately return a request for comment. In previous interviews, Siskiyou County officials denied their motivations were driven by race.
Mueller noted that the county does present its own compelling case that crime is on the rise.
“The Sheriff’s Office has responded to reports of armed robbery, assault, and murder. In just one recent week, a man was pistol-whipped and robbed, another was the target of gunshots fired by a neighbor, and six people were bound and robbed by gunmen wielding AK-47s. Few similar crimes were reported in Shasta Vista before illegal cannabis cultivation took hold,” she wrote.
Hmong growers also argued that the ban on water deprives them of the ability to put out any fires that start in the subdivision.
In late June, a lightning strike sparked the Lava Fire nearby before burning through several parcels in the Mount Shasta Vista subdivision.
The Hmong in Shasta Vista accused firefighters of not bothering to try to put it out, blocking them from bringing their own water trucks so they could fight the fire themselves.
Local authorities disputed those charges and said the marijuana farmers blocked roads, threw rocks and forced Cal Fire crews to retreat.
The tensions became deadly when officers shot and killed a Hmong man who they say tried to drive through a fire checkpoint brandishing a gun.
County officials say the investigation into the shooting is ongoing. Authorities haven’t yet released the final report or body camera or dash camera footage taken of the shooting.