Judge says Northern California county water delivery ban is discriminatory against Hmong pot growers

marijuana Hmong community

A federal judge has blocked Northern California county permit laws that she argued were discriminatory toward Asian Americans.

Ordinances: Two Siskiyou County ordinances were filed on May 4 that prohibit the transportation of groundwater without a permit.

  • County Ordinance 21-07 requires a permit to extract and move groundwater off site, and Ordinance 21-08 restricts the transportation of water by truck on certain specified highways.
  • The county claimed the restrictions were necessary for environmental preservation and crime prevention. They hoped that the ordinances would prevent illegal cannabis growth and distribution and prevent unpermitted dwellings in the area.
  • Thousands of Hmong Americans immigrated to California for marijuana farming, a trend which the New York Times refers to as the “Green Rush,” and depend on the groundwater for their farms.
  • Asian Law Caucus and American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing the county’s decision to effectively cut off the Hmong community’s water supply was based on “anti-Asian sentiment.”
  • The groups claim that the county ordinances targeting Hmong farmers and community members violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. They also claim it violated civil rights laws, due process rights and their right to freely assemble.

Court ruling: The Eastern District of California will temporarily block Siskiyou County marijuana permit laws, starting on Sept. 3 and continuing until further order from the court.

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  • The order, signed by Chief U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller of the Eastern District of California, deems that the county’s actions have only proven costly and ineffective. The order claims instances of illegal marijuana growth have increased as well.
  • “It is difficult to understand what purpose these requirements might serve other than to deter lay people from applying for permits,” Judge Mueller wrote.
  • She wrote that the permit process created unreasonable barriers for non-English speakers, requiring applicants to list parcel numbers and zoning categories.
  • While Asian Law Caucus and ACLU Northern California claimed that the ordinances violated their rights and equal protection clause, the judge found the plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on those claims.
  • The case’s lead plaintiff Dilevon Lo was represented by Allison Margolin and James Raza Lawrence of Margolin & Lawrence. Domenic Spinelli, a private attorney based in Sacramento, represented the county.

Past issues: Siskiyou County has clashed with Hmong residents involved with marijuana farms in the past.

  • In July, Siskiyou County Police officers shot a Hmong American man 60 times during a lava fire evacuation, which started when a small fire ignited in a remote area of an old lava flow and burned 26,316 acres.
  • The lava fire endangered nearby communities and marijuana farms, and the shooting increased tensions between police and Hmong marijuana growers.

Feature Image from Vox

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