Wildlife officers with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recently shut down an illegal cannabis operation in southern Monterey County. Like many other illicit grows in California, the operators were circumventing state laws that are designed protect native plants, fish and wildlife.
During the week of July 18, CDFW served a search warrant near the town of Bradley. The warrant was part of an investigation into illegal hemp and illegal cannabis cultivation.
Support was provided by the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office, Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, Monterey County Parks, California Department of Cannabis Control (DCC), State Water Resources Control Board and a CDFW environmental scientist.
Prior to serving the search warrant, a records check was conducted on the property. An expired hemp registration from 2021 was discovered, but no county permit or state license for cannabis cultivation had been issued.
Further investigation into the property revealed the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of the plants was well above the 0.3 percent threshold to be considered hemp. The persons subleasing the property told the landowner the operation was a legal hemp facility. Given the similarities in product appearances, illegal cultivators often claim their cannabis is hemp to avoid complying with regulatory requirements.
“This is one of many enforcement operations where we are finding illegal cannabis operations under the guise of a hemp facility,” said CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division David Bess. “These illicit operators should be put on notice that ignoring state laws to grow cannabis will not be tolerated. Illegal operators of this nature are a detriment to those legally cultivating cannabis.”
A CDFW scientist who assisted in the operation documented several environmental violations, including placement of waste and debris generated from cannabis cultivation, liquid fertilizer and petroleum products within the vicinity of streams on site. Such violations are detrimental to plants, fish and wildlife that depend on the streams for survival.
Officers eradicated 6,877 illegal cannabis plants and destroyed more than 6,000 lbs. of cannabis flower, a portion of which was packed on an 18-wheeler, presumably to ship elsewhere for further processing.
“Collaborating on enforcement actions allow us to more effectively take down operations that harm our environment and present unfair competition to our legal businesses,” said DCC Director Nicole Elliott. “California will not stand for operations that skirt the rules and harm natural habitats and precious waterways. If you see something suspicious, you can make an anonymous complaint with the DCC on our website.”
Several subjects were detained, interviewed and later released pending charges with the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office.
In July 2022, the DCC announced that it expects to seize more than $1 billion worth of illegal cannabis products through its multiagency enforcement(opens in new tab) efforts to keep untested and potentially dangerous cannabis products off the market. Californians are encouraged to submit complaints such as cannabis businesses operating without a license, a licensed cannabis business that is not following the law and cannabis goods that have improper labeling. To report crimes and learn state licenses and laws, and to locate legal cannabis retailers near you, visit cannabis.ca.gov(opens in new tab).