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State awards $1.5 million for cannabis enforcement

September 30, 2021 —  Mendocino County will receive $600,000 from the state for cannabis enforcement, possibly as soon as next month.

Senator Mike McGuire announced the allocation of $1.5 million of general fund monies at a press conference yesterday with sheriffs from around the north coast and Third District Supervisor John Haschak. Humboldt County will also get $600,000 for its enforcement efforts, and Trinity County will get $300,000. The money is earmarked for enforcement operations at grow sites that are diverting water illegally, harming the environment and sensitive species, and involve organized crime.

McGuire emphasized that the money is not to be used for raids on small farmers working towards getting legal. “At no time will legacy farmers and small family farmers who are currently working through the permitting process, or those who are already permitted, be the focus of this campaign,” he said. “No way, no how.”

McGuire said part of the purpose of the new campaign is to help prop up the legal market, which, as Supervisor John Haschak remarked, is out-competed by the illegal market. “Many cannabis growers are on the path to getting county and state permits for cultivation,” he noted. “Yet when these illegal grows are not following any rules, they aren’t paying the taxes and fees, and cutting corners at every step, the illegal market has the advantage.”

All three sheriffs talked about the increase in violent crime, human trafficking, and the environmental degradation associated with illegal  grows. Sheriff Matt Kendall, who approached McGuire about six weeks ago to ask for state assistance on enforcement, estimated about eight to ten thousand illegal grows in Mendocino County — and the sole priority behind them.

“We’ve got some folks who showed up with a two year plan to make as much money as they possibly could, and that plan did not include did not include taking care of the environment, taking care of the folks around them, that plan did not include looking out for sensitive species,” he informed his listeners.

Humboldt County Sheriff  Billy Honsal spoke about the organized crime that’s moved into all three counties.

“They’re playing the numbers,” he said. “When you look at how many search warrants we do every year, it’s in the hundreds. And so when there’s thousands and thousands of illegal grows, organized crime, they’ll take advantage of it...organized crime has moved in all over. Once it was trespass grows, now they’re buying up private land, all over the county...we’ve had unprecedented homicides, as well as gun violence, throughout the county...we were hoping legalization would push some of these people out, and it has not.” 

The money cannot be used to hire more sheriff’s personnel at the local level, but it can be used for overtime and per diem costs as the three sheriff’s departments assist each other on enforcement operations. And Kendall expects a lot more help from the Department of Cannabis Control and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

McGuire pledged that this collaboration, and this funding, “is just the start.”

Kendall added in an interview after the press conference that he also expects assistance from CDFW scientists. These specialists are qualified to document the details of environmental degradation at illegal grow sites so the District Attorney can prosecute the damage as a crime. 

Kendall described the new campaign as still in the planning and handshaking phase, but he expects to be able to call on state law enforcement agencies and his neighboring sheriff’s departments soon. He hopes to knock out the large illegal grows in two years.

 
                              Audio of "State awards $1.5 million for cannabis enforcement"

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