A County Divided: A Look at the Cannabis Rift in Siskiyou

A majority of Siskiyou County residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana in November, but that hasn’t stopped their no-nonsense sheriff, Jon Lopey, from embarking on a crusade against the stuff. Lopey once served as head of the sheriff’s department in Mendocino County where cannabis is ubiquitous. It taught him lessons he won’t soon forget.

“I saw how that developed over there, and all we’re trying to do is impose some reasonable control. I think if we lose control this year, it’ll never come back,” Lopey said then. “It’ll overwhelm us.”

Many medical and recreational marijuana advocates don’t view it that way. They see pot-weary leaders like Lopey as thwarting the will of an increasingly progressive community.

“I think a lot of it’s fear of change. But change comes to everybody. California’s given us a way to (grow) legally,” said local pot activist Wayne Walent. He called Lopey’s anti-marijuana stance “pure politics.”

Proposition 64 passed 52 to 48 percent in Siskiyou, so there is still a sizeable portion of the population that opposes legal weed, especially in unincorporated areas. The two sides often go toe-to-toe and isn’t pretty.

“There are two camps that are absolutely dogmatic on one side or the other,” said Supervisor Lisa Nixon, “but there’s a huge group in between that wants to talk about it.”

The disagreement led to a recent stalemate over a pilot program permitting recreational pot facilities. But the situation is even worse for medical marijuana patients, some say, thanks to the blanket opposition to pot in some of these areas that makes it hard for them to obtain their medicine.

The arguments over weed were around long before Proposition 64 hit the ballot. In fact, a crackdown on illegal pot grows launched by Lopey in 2016 is featured in a major lawsuit filed by the county’s Hmong community. They say they’re unfairly targeted for pot raids among other discriminatory practices.

Read more about the ongoing pot debate in Siskiyou here


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