WEED FEED / John Ross Ferrara / Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017 @ 10 a.m.

Weed Feed: Mendo Sheriff's Office Raids 74 Grows So Far This Year, Yanks More than 90,000 Plants as State Pushes for Industry to Go Legit

Outpost file photo.

As California readies for recreational marijuana to hit the shelves this January, sheriff’s agencies within the Emerald Triangle are busy cruising the hills by helicopter, searching out and destroying illegal grows in hopes of bringing the state’s remaining cannabis outlaws into compliance.

The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office’s latest eradication efforts were documented in a New York Times article this week that focuses on the current state of California’s recreational cannabis industry.

According to the Times article, the MCSO has already raided 74 illegal grows this year, destroying more than 90,000 cannabis plants in the process.

These raids come at a crucial crossroads for California’s cannabis industry. While 57 percent of voters agreed to legalize recreational weed by voting yes on Prop. 64 last year, an overwhelming majority of growers still choose to work outside the system.

“There are very few areas you can go in the county and not find marijuana — it’s everywhere,” MCSO Lieutenant Bruce Smith told the New York Times. “The vast majority aren’t permitted.”

Humboldt is no different. In July, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office released a statement saying that only about a fifth of all local growers had filed applications to grow legally.

A bust in Garberville. Outpost file photo.

It’s estimated that only about 11 percent of growers have applied for permits within the Emerald Triangle, and California Growers Association Executive Director Hezekiah Allen told the Times that there are three basic reason for this: Growers don’t care to fill out the permit paperwork, don’t like the fees, or don’t want to pay taxes.

“I know that the numbers don’t look great; there are a lot of folks that aren’t coming in,” Allen told the Times.

The lack of compliance among growers will likely prove troublesome for government officials, who anticipate California’s recreational cannabis industry will bring in an extra $1 billion in tax revenue next year.

One major reason growers may be unwilling to go legit is that there’s more money to be made illegally shipping pot out of state. The New York Times reports that weed can sell for several times more on the East Coast than in California. And since California is estimated to produce eight times more weed than it consumes, the remaining supply is inevitably going to be sent where there’s demand.

Another reason growers may be avoiding the legal market is because the penalties are too soft. While Prop. 64’s main focus was to legalize recreational marijuana, it also reduced the maximum penalty for illegally growing, selling or transporting cannabis from a felony to a misdemeanor charge and an 180-day jail sentence.

“You could have 1,000 pounds in your hotel room right now and you might be charged with just a misdemeanor,” Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman told the Times.

However, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported last year that if a person is busted transporting cannabis across state lines, has a previous “super strike” felony conviction or is a registered sex offender, felony charges can still apply.

With legal weed only four months away, California’s drug task force agencies will continue to play cat-and-mouse with growers as the state pushes to end its history of cannabis prohibition and black market industry. 

But they face an uphill battle. 

According to numbers in this week’s New York Times article, roughly 28,500 growers are still operating without permits.

If these numbers — based on data from various state and county agencies — are accurate, then roughly 90 percent of grows in the Emerald Triangle are operating without permits.

While the MCSO has busted 74 illegal grows so far this year, sheriff’s officers throughout the Emerald Triangle would have to destroy more than 78 grows a day for the next year in order to shut down every illegal operation.

Happy raiding!


The Weed Feed is a weekly column written by John Ross Ferrara.

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