Officials Rethink Cannabis Regulations

Supervisors in Los Angeles County have voted to increase law enforcement efforts in the wake of a massive, illegal marijuana farm invasion in the high desert. They are now reconsidering their current ban on commercial cultivation.

People have been complaining about large-scale black market farms for months. Some authorities say the boom has led to a range of social problems, including violence, forced labor, water theft, and destruction of wildlife and habitats. In addition, a long-term resident of the community asserts that she feels less safe, as criminals associated with the black market grow to operate with no fear of reprisal, carrying weapons, engaging in shootouts with rivals, and instilling fear in those who wander too close to their farms.

Five supervisors voted to reinstate commercial cannabis production and distribution ban in the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles this week. County supervisors also passed a motion that requested county attorneys and state officials to work together to devise a strategy to file civil suits against people stealing water and gain more control of illicit cannabis and unregulated hemp.

“Organized crime is still alive and well in the United States, in California,” said said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “And in wanting to really corner this market,”

Funding Solutions

Additionally, the motion also gave $250,000 to help the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department further enforce regulations.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva says that the department has allocated $1 million in money and manpower to combat the cultivation of 40% of the illicit grows over the past two months.

Villanueva previously acknowledged in a press conference that growers arrested in a major bust were working to rebuild their farms.

Barger, who represents the five-county district of northern Los Angeles, is quite massive. As a result, said the county commissioner, environmental degradation was just as big a problem as water theft and resident safety.

Growers have used bulldozers to clear areas in the desert, destroyed Joshua trees and other native vegetation, and sprayed toxic pesticides that are harmful to wildlife.

Two dead bear carcasses were recently discovered near marijuana grows. Pesticides are said to have been used to kill animals.

“If it’s killing our wildlife,” said Barger. “Imagine what it’s doing to those that come in contact with it once it’s put on the market up for sale.”

Since Californians voted to allow recreational cannabis use in 2016, L.A. County officials have had difficulty determining how to proceed.

Marijuana possession and consumption have been decriminalized in California, though municipalities have the option to prohibit retail sales and production in their jurisdiction.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors examined the situation while staying away from commercial cannabis production and distribution on unincorporated land. After several months of preparation, a report that included 64 recommendations was released. However, to avoid doing anything, the supervisors chose not to take action.

An Ongoing Issue

There have been several illegal marijuana farms and dispensaries cropping up all across unincorporated L.A. Unfortunately, due to the low expectations from angry residents who don’t hold the county accountable, the area faces few consequences. Until recently, no significant steps had been taken by county leaders to regulate cannabis. Therefore, when they directed county departments to revisit their 2017 report and work together on the next steps, they had created an entirely new initiative.

Supervisor Janice Hahn, who put forth the motion, said that the supervisors approved the ban last year to give them time to find out all the details. When the advisory group’s report was released, she still wasn’t sure how the policy would affect them.

As Supervisor Janice Hahn said, in 2017, the supervisors enacted the prohibition to “buy them some time” to finish determining all the finer points. Until the report on the advisory group came out, she was still uncertain.

The hesitation Hahn displayed in 2017 was an early signal of what was to come.

This conversation between supervisors and Hahn illustrates how they anticipate Hahn’s questions about how county enforcement will proceed once the ordinance banning cannabis production and distribution is in place.

“It’s one thing to have a neighbor who might have seven plants, as opposed to six,” said Hahn. “It’s another thing for our county staff to arrive on a scene that is much bigger and scarier than someone who is just personally cultivating cannabis for personal use. Could be a whole operation. There could be dangerous weapons involved.”

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