California Agency Continues to Target Illegal Cannabis Activity

The California Unified Cannabis Enforcement Taskforce recently announced a rise in search warrants, cannabis plant eradication, and product seizure over the last three months.

Nicole Potter

The California Unified Cannabis Enforcement Taskforce (UCETF) recently announced its progress on “aggressively” combating the illegal cannabis market.

Between Jan. 1 and March 30, UCETF shared that there was a 43% gain in the number of plants eradicated (52,529 plants in Q1 2023 compared to 29,687 in Q4 2022). The agency also served 21 warrants in the first quarter of the year, compared to 30 in the previous quarter (a 30% decrease).

The agency eradicated 31,912 pounds of cannabis, which is a 43% increase from Q4 plant eradication of 29,687 plants. Between the two most recent quarters, there was a 39% increase in terms of retail value for cannabis products seized ($32 million vs. $52.6 million). UCETF’s most recent seizures earlier this year also netted an 87% increase in money seized on size during the searches, with $95,646 in Q1 2023 compared to just $12,602 in Q4 2022.

Chief of the Law Enforcement Division, Bill Jones, said in a press statement that working with the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) has led to a higher rate of success and seizure. “As the DCC Law Enforcement Division focuses on illegal indoor cultivations, unlicensed dispensaries, and unlicensed manufacturing and distribution operations, the multi-agency, cross-jurisdictional approach of UCETF allows us to leverage the expertise of each participating department to disrupt a broader scope of illegal businesses,” said Jones. “Significantly improving our results speaks to our effectiveness and will help support the legal cannabis market.”

Chief of Enforcement for California Department of Fish & Wildlife, David Bess, stated that the overall increase in numbers will continue to rise. “This multiagency task force has hit the ground running, allowing partners with the opportunity to contribute to their area of expertise. UCETF has quickly made an impact on the illegal cannabis supply chain, which in turn is helping the regulated market succeed,” Bess said. “The gains and successes made by the task force speak directly to the efficiency and dedication of this multiagency collaboration and we expect to see this type of continued success throughout the year as UCEFT moves into outdoor cultivation enforcement season.”

The UCETF was created through California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2022-2023 budget to target illegal cannabis operations through a multi-department effort. It works closely with the DCC, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, as well as the Homeland Security Division of Cal Office of Emergency Services. It also collaborates with numerous California agencies such as the California Highway Patrol, Department of Justice, Department of Public Health, Labor and Workforce Development Agency, and many more.

UCETF has been operating since summer 2022, but in October 2022 it announced its first major crackdown on a site in the San Fernando Valley. “California is taking immediate and aggressive action to stop illegal cannabis and strengthen the burgeoning legal market throughout the state,” said Newsom in a press statement at the time. “By shutting down illegal grow sites and applying serious consequences to offenders, we are working to curtail the criminal organizations that are undercutting the regulated cannabis market in California.”

Since last year, UCETF has seized $84,652,875 in unlicensed cannabis products, eradicated 82,216 plants, and served 51 search warrants so far.

In August 2022, the DCC announced that between 2021-2022, state law enforcement had seized more than $1 billion in illegal cannabis products. “This important milestone was reached through close collaboration with local, state, and federal partners and furthers California’s efforts to go after activities that harm communities and the environment, including water theft, threats of violence, elder abuse, and human trafficking to name a few,” the DCC wrote. “These operations and the products they produce threaten consumer safety and the vitality of legal and compliant licensees.”

While some government agencies are targeting illegal operations, others are reviewing the negative impacts of the War on Drugs. Recently the Reparations Task Force released a detailed report about reparations, and ultimately recommended “that compensation for community harms be provided as uniform payments based on an eligible recipient’s duration of residence in California during the defined period of harm (e.g., residence in an over-policed community during the ‘War on Drugs’ from 1971 to 2020).” The task force will convene once more before submitting its final report on June 29.

Nicole Potter

View Comments

  • Do I live in an alternate reality? Is America a full on dystopia??? The drug war doesn’t work. Eradication doesn’t work. They just pop up again. The only thing that truly works is FULL legalization. Not this government cartel BS where it costs $1m for a license and taxes eat up all the profit and more.

    Eff California, they’ve let us all down.

    • No. I'm a Californian. Most of us are very happy with our legal stores. - Much of this "going after illegal activity" is just part of some Republican politicians' grandstanding.

      The problems California has with cannabis are:

      Allowing communities to "opt out" of having cultivation and stores. This has created huge 'legal deserts' that the black-market is only too happy to fill. I was glad to see that Minnesota's new legalization doesn't allow communities to opt out. They must allow at least one cannabis store for every 12,500 citizens.

      Most of the black-market in California is going out of state to states that still persecute their citizens for cannabis. The fraudulently enacted, federal prohibition will soon collapse under its own dead weight.

      Which leads to the last problem. Cannabis in California (and most places) is WAY too high priced, and it's not due primarily to the taxes. It's just greed. - After the federal prohibition soon collapses, good quality cannabis will sell from $25 to $40 an ounce. -- It's just a plant.

      And it will be sold wherever more harmful beer and wine are available. It's not necessary to devote a whole building just for cannabis. Those stores are another factor in making prices higher than they should be.

  • The huge leap from compensating drug war victims to compensating "communities" is at best misguided and, at worst, a scam.

    FBI statistics show that 40 percent of all arrests for marijuana are of white people, while 60 percent are of Blacks. How can this injustice for millions of white victims be ignored? Isn't discrimination against smaller groups a bad thing? - Of course, all communities are affected.

    Further, these "social equity" programs don't even help a significant number of Black victims of the war on marijuana consumers. Just a very few, lucky (well connected?) Blacks will benefit.

    What we should do instead is simply compensate ALL the victims of this insane witch-hunt. Younger victims should get paid job training and placement. Older victims should just get a pension. Funds could come out of the marijuana taxes, and, clearly would be the best use of those funds.

    Finally, the corrupt move to push 'social equity' is a huge obstacle to legalization, since it is massive, counter-productive baggage that naturally draws resistance.

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