California broadens nation’s largest pot eradication effort
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — With California’s four-year-old legal marijuana market in disarray, the state’s top prosecutor said Tuesday that he will try a new broader approach to disrupting illegal pot farms that undercut the legal economy and sow widespread environmental damage. The state will expand its nearly four-decade-old multi-agency seasonal elimination program — which this year seized nearly a million marijuana plants – into a year-round effort to investigate who is behind illegal grows. Rob Bonta, Attorney General, stated that the new program will focus on the prosecution of underlying labor crimes, environmental crime, and the underground economy that revolves around illicit cultivations.
He described it as “an important shift of mindset and in mission”, aimed at helping California’s faltering legal marketplace by removing dangerous competitors.
” The illicit marketplace outweighs that of the legal market” Bonta stated. “It’s upside-down and our goal is to complete eradication the illegal market.” In keeping with the new approach, Republican Gov. started the annual Campaign Against Marijuana Planting. Bonta stated that George Deukmejian, 1983, will be a permanent Eradication and Prevention of Illicit Cannabis. (EPIC) taskforce. Bonta stated that
CAMP was established in “a very different period, an era, and (at) times when cannabis was still completely illegal.”
The seasonal eradication program lasts 90 days each year and will continue with the support of other federal, state, and local agencies. He said that the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management are all involved in the seasonal eradication program.
The task team will be working with the state Department of Justice prosecutors and the department’s Cannabis Control Section. They will also work with an existing Tax Recovery in the Underground Economy task force ( TRUE ), which was established by law in 2020, with the purpose of filing criminal and civil cases against illegal growers.
Federal prosecutors in California have tried for years, with little success, to target organized crime cartels behind hidden farms, rather than the itinerant laborers who tend to the remote marijuana plots spread across public and private land.
The laborers often live in primitive camps without running water or sewers, and use caustic pesticides against animals that might eat the plants. The pollution they leave behind can be spread to downstream water supplies, and the pesticides can reach the food chain.
Workers are victims of human trafficking. Bonta stated that they live in terrible conditions for months and have no hope of escape. These workers are not the ones who are making a profit from the illegal cannabis market. They are the victims, not the ones being abused. They are cogs in a much bigger and more organized machine.”
For example, about 80% of the 44 illegal grow sites found on and around Bureau of Land Management properties this year were connected to drug trafficking organizations, said Karen Mouritsen, the bureau’s California state director.
“It is clear that organized crime faces many challenges,” Bonta stated. But he said he expects better results this time because the new year-round effort by multiple agencies “will make a big dent, a bit splash and lots of noise about our common priority to address the illicit marketplace, including at the highest levels.”
Bonta is running to keep his job from Republican challenger and former federal prosecutor Nathan Hochman in next month’s election. He is following a similar approach to Democrats across the country, focusing on dealers who supply illegal drugs and not the users who support the underground. Last week, President Joe Biden announced that he would pardon thousands of Americans who were convicted of “simple possess” of marijuana under federal law. Meanwhile, San Francisco officials announced a new initiative to curb open drug trading. Hochman stated that a year-round approach was “long overdue”. “Only by hitting illegal drug growers where it hurts, by seizing their plants and their proceeds, will California be able to help the legal cannabis industry survive and thrive.”
For those trying to exist under the legal market approved by California voters in 2016, the problem has been falling pot prices, restricted sales, high taxes despite the recent repeal of the cannabis cultivation tax, and the fact that buyers can find better bargains in the booming underground marketplace.
Aside from the nearly 1 million plants that Bonta valued at about $1 billion, this year’s eradication program seized more than 100 tons of processed marijuana, 184 weapons and about 33 tons of materials used to cultivate the plants, including dams, water lines and containers of toxic chemicals including pesticides and fertilizers.
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