ALTURAS, Calif. — Federal agents have seized at least 12,000 marijuana plants on Wednesday from land in far Northern California that belongs to two federally recognized Indian tribes, the U.S. attorney’s office in Sacramento said.
The plants and over 100 pounds of processed pot were found while the agents were carrying out search warrants for the properties governed by the Alturas Indian Rancheria and Pit River tribes in Modoc County, Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, said.
An application in support of the search signed by an agent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs alleges that the chairman and vice-chairman of the Alturas Rancheria, a tiny tribe with just five members and 20 acres of land, told Modoc County’s sheriff in March that they planned to start growing medical marijuana near a casino the tribe operates. Pot is only legal for medical purposes in California.
The Department of Justice announced in December that Indian tribes may grow and sell marijuana if they follow the same public safety and non-diversion policies required of states that have legalized the drug for medical or recreational use. Since then, some of the nation’s 566 recognized tribes have been weighing the potential economic benefits of getting into the cannabis business.
But the amount of marijuana that was being cultivated inside the Alturas Rancheria Event Center and in at least 40 greenhouses on Pit River tribe land nearby suggested that neither the federal conditions nor the terms of California’s medical marijuana laws were being met, according to federal prosecutors and the agent’s affidavit.
Cannabis on tribal lands
“The investigation of the cultivation facilities searched today indicates that both are commercial marijuana cultivation projects operated with the intent to transport large quantities of marijuana off tribal lands for distribution at various locations yet to be identified by the tribes,” Wagner’s office said in a statement. “These facts raise multiple federal enforcement concerns, including the diversion of marijuana to places where it is not authorized.”
No one has been arrested and no charges are pending in the case, which still is under investigation, Horwood said.
John Peebles, a Sacramento lawyer who specializes in tribal sovereignty and was identified in the affidavit as having presented the original cultivation proposal to the sheriff and Modoc County lawmakers, did not respond to a telephone call and email seeking comment. The leaders whom the Bureau of Indian Affairs lists as the chairmen of the two tribes also could not be reached.
The agent’s search warrant application alleges that the project was being financed by Grand River Enterprises chief executive officer Jerry Montour, a native Mohawk and prominent cigarette manufacturer in Canada who has tangled with federal and state authorities in the U.S. over sales of his products on this side of the border.
Montour’s business voicemail was not accepting messages on Tuesday and a call to a lawyer who has represented him was not returned.
Federal authorities were asked to investigate the marijuana growing project by the sister of the Alturas Rancheria chairman, according to the agent’s affidavit. Wendy Del Rosa and her brother, Phillip Del Rosa, have been fighting over control of the tribe since 2012, The Sacramento Bee reported earlier this year.