The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has allocated nearly $5 million to combat illicit cannabis, earmarking the money to address the proliferation of unlicensed dispensaries across the county and illegal marijuana cultivation sites in the region’s Antelope Valley. Supervisor Kathryn Barger announced the approval of the funding last week, characterizing the illegal cannabis growing operations and retailers as dual “crises.”
“Illegal cannabis operations continue to threaten the well-being of our residents, water supply and environment,” Barger said in a press release. “By empowering and equipping our law enforcement partners with the resources they need, we can better protect our communities.”
The funds allocated by the Board of Supervisors includes $2.4 million dollars Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to reinforce its efforts to eradicate unlicensed cannabis cultivation sites in the Antelope Valley and stop water theft in the area. The board cited environmental damage and quality of life nuisances as reason for the move.
The money allocated to the sheriff’s department includes $1.2 million for overtime pay for the department’s Marijuana Eradication Team for efforts to eliminate unlicensed cannabis cultivation. Another $503,000 will be spent on overtime for patrol deputies at the sheriff’s department’s Lancaster station to deter ongoing water theft in the area, and $707,000 will be spent on trucks needed to conduct investigations of illegal grow sites and other operations often carried out on dirt roads and in rough terrain.
The sheriff’s department also received $2.5 million for its Cannabis Consumer Health and Safety Task Force to combat illegal cannabis dispensaries in unincorporated areas across Los Angeles County, as well as unlicensed marijuana growers in the Antelope Valley. Barger’s office noted that since last year, the number of illegal cannabis cultivation sites in the Antelope Valley area has increased from approximately 150 to more than 500.
Massive Bust of L.A. County Illicit Pot Farms
During a 10-day operation this summer, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and law enforcement officers from other federal, state and local agencies seized about 16 tons of harvested marijuana and nearly 375,000 unlicensed cannabis plants in the Antelope Valley. Officials stated the plants and pot seized in the bust were worth $1.19 billion, although critics claim that estimates of the value of illicit marijuana operations are often exaggerated by law enforcement agencies.
“Inflating valuations of drug busts in the press” is a “fairly common tactic in law enforcement,” Alex Kreit, a law professor at Northern Kentucky University and director of the school’s Center on Addiction Law & Policy, wrote in a July email to Forbes after the massive Antelope Valley bust was announced by the sheriff’s department.
“That’s not to say it is legitimate; I think it is incredibly misleading,” he added. “But I do believe it’s common.”
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department 2021-2022 budget also includes an additional $500,000 in previously approved grant funding for cannabis eradication efforts from the Drug Enforcement Administration for the county’s participation in the Domestic Cannabis Eradication Suppression Program for the elimination of unregulated marijuana cultivation.
In a memo to the Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles County chief executive officer Fesia A. Davenport “recommended that LASD continue to explore grant opportunities to expand their ability to combat illegal cannabis grows, water theft and illegal cannabis dispensaries.”
Despite the legalization of cannabis with the passage of Proposition 64 by California voters in 2016, illicit marijuana production continues to be an issue in the state. Late last month, law enforcement officers in the San Francisco Bay Area seized more than 100,000 cannabis plants, at least six tons of harvested pot and millions of dollars in cash during raids at more than a dozen illicit marijuana cultivation sites across Alameda County.