Article: Illegal Marijuana Cultivation Creating Enormous Problems for California’s Rural Communities

California  Globe reports

The recent discovery of a 40-acre illegal grow in Death Valley is part of a burgeoning problem in California. That was only one of the hundreds of illegal operations found throughout Death Valley in the past decade. It’s a problem that’s becoming familiar to more Californians as marijuana cultivation moves into more populated rural areas.

Legalizing adult use of marijuana was a big step towards dismantling the costly and ineffective war on drugs. Voters in California and 16 other states balked at the disproportionate targeting of minorities and the unprecedented powers it gave police over its citizens by way of asset forfeiture.

California had already dropped marijuana possession to an infraction in 2011, causing these arrests to fall by 85% the following year.  But the misdemeanor charges, infraction fines, and court fees still available as punishment negatively impacted lives.

Prop 64 moved past the provisions of Prop 215 that legalized medical marijuana in 1996 in several ways; it allowed recreational use by adults over 21 and the growing of a limited number of plants.

It also contained two provisions that brought about a flood of unintended consequences: Allowing local government to control both cultivation and sales in their jurisdictions and making illegal, unlicensed marijuana grows a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The high taxes on legal marijuana set the match to this fuel of bad policy.

According to the New York Times, 80% of California’s approximately 500 local governments kept legal sales out of their districts. There is no legal access to marijuana in many areas, and illegal sellers are there to fill the void. A recent RAND study shows illegal retailers not only avoid taxes, making the product cheaper for consumers,  but they also avoid rules about purchase limits or types of product. Their products aren’t subject to the same rigorous testing as their legal counterparts.

On the production side, illegal cultivation is creating enormous problems for rural communities throughout the state.

In San Bernardino County, rural communities are being inundated by illegal grows throughout the Morongo Basin, home to Joshua Tree National Park.  Several cities in San Bernardino allow marijuana sales, but unincorporated areas of the county do not.

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