The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office issued a news release on Tuesday detailing the results of the actions of the Drug Enforcement Unit over the past year.
The annual local cannabis eradication program that began in October 2017 is still ongoing according to Lt. Michael Fridley who heads up the Special Services Division that includes the DEU.
The DEU consists of three deputies and a sergeant who have seized and destroyed more than 190,000 marijuana plants, more than 12,000 pounds of marijuana bud, more than 11,000 pounds of shake and more than 650 pounds of hash oil from operations stemming from 65 search warrants in the past year.
“There is so much out there you have to sort of triage and go after the worst of the worst,” Fridley said Tuesday. “The bulk of the $3 million was seized from one grow which was part of a Fish and Wildlife warrant, and the Butane Honey Oil came from one bust in Orick. We rarely operate this late in the year and we’re in the middle of a search warrant right now.”
One number that stands out from the list of statistics is the fact that DEU made only 14 arrests in the 65 operations and Fridley said that was due to a few factors, one of them being it can take a while to process evidence and get it to the District Attorney, meanwhile, anyone arrested has to be arraigned and charged within 48 hours and that can lead to conflict.
“Once you go out and arrest somebody the clock starts ticking for when they have to be arraigned,” Fridley said. “So we’ll finish off the processing of evidence and the paperwork and then during downtime we’ll ask for an arrest warrant for the suspects once all the paperwork is done. If I arrest him and don’t get the paperwork in, he walks free.”
Fridley said the focus on eradication efforts has changed over the past few years and it’s the grow sites that display environmental degradation that get the most attention. Fridley also said that while he didn’t have the exact numbers in front of him to compare to past years and seizures, they aren’t finding as many outsized grows.
“We are not encountering the big outdoor grows we used to so I must assume the numbers have gone down,” he said. “The targets now are usually greenhouses with fewer plants but our focus isn’t so much on the size. We’re looking at pollution, illegal dozing, dammed creeks and other environmental damage.”
Fridley also addressed the seizure of money that results from the search warrants, stating that it doesn’t go into the coffers of the the DEU or the sheriff’s office, but instead is deposited into a controlled account until the matter is adjudicated.
“The way it works is anything under $40,000 we seize only if we make an arrest and then can only get that full seizure later on if there a conviction,” Fridley said. “For anything above $40,000, we can take that under an administration hold. We take that money and deposit in a bank account and we can’t touch it. We tell the person it was seized from how they can file a claim to get the money back but that means going before a judge and arguing it was legally gained income.”
Over the course of the operation, the DEU also seized 36 firearms, disrupted four butane honey oil hash labs and they destroyed the cannabis seized other than samples that were set aside as evidence and it was done by local deputies; CAMP came to the county this year as part of the annual marijuana eradication effort and spent just 12 days.
Overall, Fridley said, it was a successful year.
“We are always looking for ways to be more effective and we are proud of the work the guys did this year,” he said.