Historical records date the enjoyment of marijuana back to 1840s Mexico. Ma, the Chinese word for hemp, predates written history and has been used to describe medical marijuana since at least 1,200 years before Christ. Call it weed, pot, Mary Jane or cannabis, no matter what term you use, this plant is causing big problems in California.
Like effective woke politicians in many West and East Coast states, our Legislature decided to decriminalize marijuana. Too many young lives were being ruined by criminal proceedings for selling, smoking or being a victim of this “harmless” weed.
Why turn a “feel good” experience into a court-inflicted bummer?
One benefit, as sold to voters, was that allowing everyone to raise their own cannabis would kill off the drug cartels, gangs and others who profit from smuggled pot. The real selling point for state politicians was the enormous potential tax revenue from licensed growers, sellers and users.
A complicated network of approvals, lab testing and onerous value-added taxes at every level of production was layered on “legal” cannabis guaranteeing a thriving black market would prosper.
The issue now is the expanding illegal cannabis grow operations in this and several other states.
Why are illegal grow operations a problem? Three key issues must concern us all — no matter our political position or relationship with cannabis.
The cost of policing in America is skyrocketing. Law enforcement officers are under immense pressure to be perfect in every way. Calls for increased and on-going training for police departments is expensive.
In San Bernardino County, local cities face hard budget decisions regarding increasing or cutting police budgets. You do not hear anyone in Washington D.C. suggesting sending a couple billion dollars to local municipalities for more police. Yet, we must devote needed manpower to hunting down and clearing out illegal cannabis operations.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department created “Operation Homegrown” in 2020 to target these illegal grows, as this newspaper has reported. Why do we devote time and money to the harmless farming of a legal substance?
The scope and network of illegal grow operations is essentially the spread of organized crime under our noses. Illegal weapons, stolen cars and felony offenders have been routinely found when a grow operation is “hit” by a sheriff’s strike team. These folks are not mild-mannered farmers struggling to eke out a living.
Law enforcement cannot be the only solution. Current laws will only allow the offending plants to be removed — not the grow infrastructure. This May, the sheriff’s department removed 76,000 marijuana plants from Lucerne Valley. Many raids also uncover processed marijuana and the remnants of facilities to make edibles and other cannabis-based products. One raid in the Morongo Basin nabbed 600 pounds of ready-to-ship processed marijuana, products that are not lab tested or prepared safely.
Once law enforcement has left the property, others return to plant again and the process starts over. Many property owners do not care how renters are using the land.
Another issue is the consistent use of toxic chemicals on these illegal grow sites. The National Forest Service reports routinely finding dead animals in a wide area around illegal grow and manufacturing operations hidden deep in the National Forest.
These grow operations only care about a cheap finished product. The safety of insecticides to keep pests and animals from their plants is of no concern. What toxic chemicals get dumped into the ground when producing and cooking up edibles is of no concern. What gets into the water table is our problem, not theirs.
There is no government agency assigned to assess the environmental damage done by these illegal grow operations. Where is the outrage of the activists who want clean air, water and Bambi preserved at any cost?
Finally, illegal cannabis grows are nurtured by the major theft of our scarcest resource: Water.
In a recent news report, Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Bill Bodner estimated there were “at least 1,000 illegal grows in the Los Angeles area using about 2 million gallons of water a day.” Didn’t somebody say we are entering another drought in California?
California Fish and Wildlife officials claim one marijuana plant uses about six gallons of water a day. The pot industry claims it is closer to 2.3 gallons per day. You do the math. Humans use between 70 and 100 gallons a day.
How is this a problem? Illegal growers are paying well owners to fill water trucks for the grows. Unpermitted or poorly drilled illegal wells are being sunk in many remote areas of our county and this state. Previously active wells in farms no longer in operation are now profit centers for landowners. What effect does this have on the aquifers many communities rely on?
In Siskiyou County, water trucks are banned on most roads to stop the wholesale overdraft of the local water supply due to theft for illegal grows. Some smaller communities dependent on well water find the domestic supply is now a trickle. The water has been stolen from under their land.
Dry wells are no joke for farms and rural communities where water supplies are being stolen for illegal pot farms. Lucerne Valley, Landers, Morongo, Twentynine Palms, Hinkley and Joshua Tree are just a few places where this activity rages.
San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson has addressed the illegal grow problem in several local talks and has promised that together, with additional support for law enforcement, there would soon be a “new strategy” that encompasses pursuing illegal grow operators using Code Enforcement, environmental laws, and civil and criminal statutes.
But we need more. Our local Assembly members and state senators need to act.
We need a new bi-partisan law that allows the appropriate law enforcement agency to destroy all lights, buildings and equipment associated with illegal grows. Second, the total expenses for the police time, demolition crew, trash removal and any environmental clean-up should be billed to the property owner. If the bill is not paid in 120 days, the land is forfeited to the state or county for resale.
This would require warrants and sufficient cause, of course. It may not be fair to the landowner who is clueless as to what tenants are doing, but it will ensure property owners stop turning a blind eye to what is happening on their land.
Illegal grows are out-of-control and, while hidden away, they threaten our safety, environment and water supply. Let’s eradicate them, not just inconvenience them.
Contact Pat Orr at email@example.com.