San Bernardino County, Calif., is backing attempts at the state level to crack down on illicit cannabis grows.
The county is supporting legislation in the California Assembly and Senate that would increase fines for illegal cannabis cultivation and target groundwater pollution caused by illicit grow sites, according to the Mohave Valley Daily News.
“Illegal cannabis farming is devastating the desert communities of San Bernardino County,” Curt Hagman, chairman of the San Bernardino Board of Supervisors, told the news outlet. “The county is determined to stop this terrible damage to the environment and to protect the lives and property of our residents from lawless criminals.”
The county has also requested $10 million in state funding to help clean up environmental damage at hundreds of illegal cultivation sites, the Mohave Valley Daily News reported.
California voters legalized cannabis in 2016 through Proposition 64, which allows the home cultivation of six plants for personal use and reduces the penalty for illegal cannabis cultivation from a felony to a misdemeanor.
“California law on cannabis crimes lacks serious penalties,” Dawn Rowe, vice chair of the San Bernardino Board of Supervisors, told the Mohave Valley Daily News. “If someone grows 7, 700 or 70,000 cannabis plants without a license the punishment is all the same—it is a misdemeanor. State law needs real punishments to eliminate large-scale illegal cannabis farms or rural Californians will continue to suffer.”
California lawmakers are taking notice.
Earlier this year, Rep. Thurston Smith (R-Apple Valley) introduced Assembly Bill 1725 to classify unlicensed cannabis cultivation as a felony, rolling back the provisions in Prop. 64 that deem growing any number of plants without a license a misdemeanor.
Smith has also put forth A.B. 2728 to add an additional civil penalty based on the size of the illegal cultivation operation in an effort to distinguish between minor infractions and larger, industrial-sized grows, according to the Mohave Valley Daily News.
In addition, Sen. Anna Caballero (D-Salinas) has introduced Senate Bill 1426 to address environmental damage and water-related crimes committed by illegal cannabis cultivators.
“Illegal cannabis farming is killing wildlife and wreaking environmental damage across the state,” Caballero told the Mohave Valley Daily News. “This bill will help stop the pollution of our groundwater supply and the theft of water, which are all the more important during an ongoing multi-year drought.”
S.B. 1426 aims to combat the theft or pollution of groundwater, illegal access to water conveyance or storage infrastructure, digging unpermitted wells, and groundwater pollution through the use of illegal pesticides or the excessive use of rodenticides, herbicides, pesticides or other hazardous chemicals, the news outlet reported.
San Bernardino County is also supporting Rep. Blanca Rubio’s (D-Baldwin Park) A.B. 2421, which gives county counsels and city attorneys increased authority to prosecute and enjoin water theft and water pollution.
"I appreciate these legislators' efforts to give law enforcement practical and meaningful tools to address illegal marijuana cultivation," San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus told the Mohave Valley Daily News. "I look forward to our continued collaboration as we work to address issues which affect the residents in our communities."
San Bernardino County has attempted to crack down on illicit cannabis cultivation in the past through “Operation Hammer Strike,” an investigation into unlawful cannabis cultivation in the country.
During the eight-week investigation last fall, officials served 183 search warrants, made 238 arrests, and seized 186,916 plants and 38,911 pounds of processed cannabis.