Around town: seeds of destruction
Historical records date the enjoyment of marijuana in Mexico to the 1840s. Ma, the Chinese word for hemp, predates written history and has been used to describe medical marijuana for at least 1,200 BC -Christ. Call it weed, pot, Mary Jane or cannabis, whatever term you use, this plant is causing big problems in California.
Like effective politicians who have awakened in many states on the west and east coast, our legislature has decided to decriminalize marijuana. Too many young lives are wasted by criminal prosecution for selling, smoking or falling victim to this “harmless” herb.
Why turn a “feel good” experience into a court-inflicted disappointment?
One of the benefits, as sold to voters, was that allowing everyone to produce their own cannabis would kill the drug cartels, gangs and others who profit from smuggling weed. The real selling point for state politicians was the huge potential tax revenues for producers, sellers and authorized users.
A complicated web of approvals, lab tests and onerous value-added taxes at all levels of production has been superimposed on “legal” cannabis, ensuring the prosperity of a thriving black market.
The problem now is the expansion of illegal cannabis cultivation operations in this state and several others.
Why are illegal cultivation operations a problem? Three key questions must concern us all, regardless of our political stance or our 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 ongoing training for police services are costly.
In San Bernardino County, local towns face tough budget decisions about increasing or reducing police budgets. You don’t hear anyone in Washington DC suggesting sending a few billion dollars to local municipalities for more policing. Yet we must devote the necessary manpower to hunting down and eliminating illegal cannabis operations.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department created “Operation Homegrown” in 2020 to target these illegal crops, as this newspaper reported. Why are we spending time and money on the harmless breeding of a legal substance?
The extent and network of illegal cultivation operations is essentially the spread of organized crime under our noses. Illegal guns, stolen cars and criminals have been routinely found when a cultivation operation is ‘hit’ by a sheriff’s strike team. These people are not mild-mannered farmers struggling for a living.
Law enforcement cannot be the only solution. Current laws will only allow disposal of offending plants, not growing infrastructure. In May, the Sheriff’s Department removed 76,000 marijuana plants from the Lucerne Valley. Numerous raids also uncover processed marijuana and the remains of facilities for making edibles and other cannabis products. A raid in the Morongo Basin caught 600 pounds of processed marijuana ready to ship, products that are not lab tested or prepared safely.
Once law enforcement has left the property, others return to the factory and the process begins again. Many landlords don’t care how tenants use the land.
Another problem is the constant use of toxic chemicals on these illegal growing sites. The National Forest Service reports that it regularly finds dead animals in a large area around illegal cultivation and manufacturing operations hidden deep in the National Forest.
These cultivation operations only care about a cheap end product. The safety of insecticides to ward off pests and animals from their plants is not of concern. Toxic chemicals released into the soil during the production and cooking of edibles are not of concern. What gets into the water table is our problem, not theirs.
No government agency is responsible for assessing the environmental damage caused by these illegal cultivation operations. Where is the indignation of the activists who want clean air, water and preserved Bambi at all costs?
Finally, illegal cannabis cultivation is fueled by the major theft of our most scarce resource: water.
In a recent report, Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Bill Bodner estimated that there were “at least 1,000 illegal crops in the Los Angeles area using about 2 million gallons of water per day” . Didn’t someone say we’re getting into another drought in California?
California Fish and Wildlife officials say that a marijuana plant uses about six gallons of water per day. The pot industry claims it’s closer to 2.3 gallons per day. You do the math. Humans use between 70 and 100 gallons per day.
And how is this a problem? Illegal producers pay well owners to fill trucks with water for crops. Unauthorized or improperly drilled illegal wells are being drilled in many remote areas of our county and state. Wells previously active on farms that are no longer in operation are now profit centers for landowners. What effect does this have on the aquifers on which many communities depend?
In Siskiyou County, tankers are banned on most roads to stop the general overdraft of the local water supply due to theft for illegal crops. Some smaller communities that rely on well water are finding that the domestic supply is now a trickle. Water was stolen from under their land.
Dry wells are no joke for farms and rural communities where water supplies are stolen for illegal pot farms. Lucerne Valley, Landers, Morongo, Twentynine Palms, Hinkley and Joshua Tree are just a few places where this activity is raging.
San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson has raised the issue of illegal cultivation in several local talks and promised that together, with additional support for law enforcement, there will soon be a ” new strategy ”which encompasses the prosecution of illegal cultivation operators using code enforcement, environmental laws and civil and criminal statutes.
But we need more. Our local assembly members and state senators must act.
We need a new bipartisan law that allows the appropriate law enforcement agency to destroy all lights, buildings and equipment associated with illegal crops. Second, the total expenses for police time, demolition crew, garbage removal and any environmental clean-up should be billed to the owner. If the invoice is not paid within 120 days, the land is forfeited to the state or county for resale.
That would require warrants and sufficient cause, of course. It may not be fair to the landowner who has no idea what the tenants are doing, but it will ensure that the landowners stop turning a blind eye to what is happening on their land.
Illegal cultivation is uncontrollable and, although hidden, it threatens our security, our environment and our water supply. Let’s eradicate them, not just disturb them.
Contact Pat Orr at [email protected]