San Bernardino’s Operation Hammer Strike Concludes Illegal Cannabis Eradication

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Marijuana Enforcement Team (MET) recently updated the public with data regarding its illegal cultivation investigations over the past year.

Nicole Potter

In a press release, the MET released data about the operation’s many successes. “Since August 26, 2022, MET investigators have served 127 search warrants at illegal cultivation locations, arresting 103 suspects,” the MET stated. “As a result of the search warrants, investigators have seized 158,906 marijuana plants, 29,897 pounds of processed marijuana, 30 firearms, 28,259 grams (62.3 pounds) of concentrated marijuana, 5,443 grams (11.9 pounds) of Psilocybin mushrooms, and seized approximately $1,643,688.00 in illicit proceeds. Investigators also eradicated 1,188 greenhouses found at these locations, and mitigated six electrical bypasses and seven Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) extraction labs.”

All of the investigations found offenders in violation of the California Medical and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, as well as San Bernardino County ordinance, which does not allow commercial cannabis. The county also does not allow outdoor cannabis cultivation.

Although Operation Hammer Strike has concluded, the department states that county sheriffs will continue to investigate illegal cultivation. “The Sheriff’s Gangs/Narcotics Division will continue to enforce California’s cannabis laws and San Bernardino County’s cannabis cultivation and distribution ordinance. Persons found guilty of violating the state law and county ordinance are subject to fines, prosecution, and seizure of property.”

Operation Hammer Strike began in September 2021. At the time, there were an estimated 1,285 illegal grows reported throughout the county. In September, the MET began with a search warrant investigation of Hesperia, Pinon Hills, Phelan, and Landers, which resulted in numerous arrests and seizures of cannabis plants, processed cannabis product, firearms, and $30,000 cash. During the same month, another investigation yielded even more arrests and product seizures. This trend continued throughout 2021 and into 2022, with press releases describing the investigations in October 2021, November 2021, January 2022, February, and March.

In March, San Bernardino County sponsored state legislation with Assembly Bill 2728 and Senate Bill 1426 to stop illegal cannabis cultivation. “Illegal cannabis farming is devastating the desert communities of San Bernardino County,” said Supervisor Curt Hagman. “The County is determined to stop this terrible damage to the environment and to protect the lives and property of our residents from lawless criminals.” 

Assemblymember Thurston “Smitty” Smith also explained the reasoning behind the push to eliminate illegal grows. “The people of California let their voices be heard and chose to decriminalize cannabis. I support their choice. However, what they didn’t ask for was rampant cultivation and an illegal market sucking up resources, destroying the environment, and putting our communities at risk,” said Smith. 

By May 2022, one region of San Bernardino County reported that there were no more reported cannabis grows in the area. “I’m sure there are more out there but we actually have zero grows left in the Morongo Basin that have been reported to us,” Sheriff Shannon Dicus of Morongo Basin told the Hi-Desert Star. San Bernardino County Supervisor Dawn Rowe commented on the quick call to action. “It normally takes this county a long time to make changes for our residents but this was not the case. Thank you very much on behalf of our residents for making it a safer place to live again,” Rowe said.

Statewide efforts to eliminate illegal cannabis grows have continued steadily. Back in October 2021, California Attorney Rob Bonta announced that the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) resulted in the destruction of over one million cannabis plants. “Illegal and unlicensed marijuana planting is bad for our environment, bad for our economy, and bad for the health and safety of our communities,” Bonta said in a press release.

More recently in July, agencies like the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced the authorization of enforcement teams to investigate illegal cultivation during the 2022 growing season.

In October, Bonta announced that CAMP would henceforth be called the Eradication and Prevention of Illicit Cannabis (EPIC), and would continue to investigate illegal cultivation. “The illicit marketplace outweighs the legal marketplace,” Bonta said. “It’s upside down and our goal is complete eradication of the illegal market.”

Nicole Potter

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