Chair of Pit River Tribe slams federal raid of marijuana operation

Federal and local authorities raided the marijuana farm on the XL Rancheria in California on July 8, 2015. Photo by Bruce Brown / Facebook

The Pit River Tribe of California is defending its marijuana operation after a raid by federal authorities last week.

Chairman Mickey Gemmill, Jr. said the tribe opened High Desert Farms to grow marijuana for medicinal use, a practice that is legal in the state. He called the July 8 raid a complete surprise because the U.S. Attorney's Office knew about the operation.

“The Pit River Tribe is very experienced at operating within highly regulated industries,” Gemmill said. “We’ve managed a well-regulated gaming facility for 19 years and felt very comfortable creating a robust regulatory environment for the medical marijuana program.”

“We have been transparent in our conversations with the federal government and made no secret of our intent to exercise our sovereignty in the manner we believe appropriate,” he added “We consulted with the U.S. Attorney’s Office prior to implementing our ordinance and continued to consult with that office and other government officials throughout its implementation.”

A view of the marijuana farm on the XL Rancheria in California. Photo from U.S. Attorney's Office

Gemmill also slammed the Bureau of Indian Affairs for taking part in the raid, in which more than 12,000 marijuana plants and more than 100 pounds of processed marijuana were seized from the XL Rancheria, a reservation that is home to the Pit River Tribe, and the Alturas Rancheria, the home of another tribe.

“We are very disappointed with the decision of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as the lead federal agency, to descend on sovereign land with an army of nearly fifty law enforcement officers,” said Gemmill. “That the BIA would take such a disrespectful approach to an Indian tribe on its own land is a serious assault to the tribe’s right to self-governance.”

According to Gemmill, some tribal members were injured during the raid. He said some were arrested although U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner last week said no charges are pending against anyone.

A view of the greenhouses that were used to grow marijuana on the XL Rancheria in California. Photo from U.S. Attorney's Office

"This action was especially appalling given that some tribal members were subjected to excessive police force, severely injured and arrested during the search," Gemmill said. “We believe that it is important to remind the BIA of its responsibility to protect Indian tribes, not to undermine legitimate tribal efforts to create jobs and improve the health and welfare of tribal members."

Wagner's office has characterized the tribe's farm as a large, commercial-style business. According to an affidavit filed in federal court by a BIA special agent, the facility on the XL Rancheria had about 40 greenhouses, each capable of cultivating about 1,000 marijuana plants.

"The volume of marijuana that the XL facility alone was capable of producing, estimated at approximately 40,000-60,000 plants, far exceeds any prior known commercial marijuana grow operation anywhere within the 34-county Eastern District," Wagner's office said.

However, there was no information in the affidavit that suggested the tribe was selling, or planning to sell, marijuana for any other reason than medicinal.

Gemmill said the drug is highly regulated under tribal law. Membership applications to High Desert Farms were reviewed to ensure they were submitted by qualified patients, he said. Each plant was assigned to an individual patient and can be tracked to ensure compliance.

Gemmill also distanced his tribe's operation from that of the Alturas Rancheria, whose members are locked in a long-running leadership dispute. Siblings Phillip Del Rosa and Wendy Del Rosa -- who are the primary members of that tribe -- do not agree on cultivating marijuana and Wendy encouraged federal authorities to raid the operation.

The affidavit, on the other hand, stated that both tribes were being "financed" by Jerry Montour, a Native entrepreneur from Canada. However, that claim was based on conversations with Wendy Del Rosa and information from two unidentified, confidential sources who saw Montour on the Alturas Rancheria but not on the XL Rancheria.

Relevant Documents:
Department of Justice Policy Statement Regarding Marijuana Issues in Indian Country (October 2014)

Related Stories
Native entrepreneur from Canada funded tribal marijuana grows (7/10)
Alturas Rancheria leadership dispute helped spur marijuana bust (7/9)
Authorities seize marijuana from tribal operations in California (7/8)

Join the Conversation
Trending in News
More Headlines