Why Are California Cops Raiding Legal Marijuana Grows?

Photo by Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Marijuana legalization can be best described as a partnership. For cannabis to become a commodity that is bought and sold like alcohol, tobacco or tomatoes, everybody involved—lawmakers, law-enforcement and the people who grow, sell and consume marijuana—has to come to some kind of agreement on how things will work.

This is how everything else in our society works. If one party decides that they don’t like the rules, it can throw the whole affair into chaos.

To date, among those three players mentioned above, most of the stubborn, recalcitrant resistance has come from the police. (Shocking. Nobody could have predicted this.) And in certain northern California communities, where marijuana is the major economic driver and where local governments are offering permits for commercial marijuana activity, it’s the police who are choosing to create havoc by behaving as if legalization never happened.

According to the California Growers Association, an industry group representing small and medium cultivators in the Emerald Triangle, at least 15 “growers with county permits” or pending permit applications have been raided by law enforcement, who eradicated their crops.

In these instances, it isn’t drug task forces that are pulling up plants, but Fish and Wildlife wardens, convinced that environmental degradation is afoot—not that it matters much to the growers which badges are being flashed when a year’s work is being cut down and tossed into the back of an evidence trailer (or flung into a ravine).

Understandably, growers are livid and asking aloud, “What’s the point?”

As the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports, “cannabis cultivators have showed up by the thousands at county offices” in Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties, seeking permits—and, along with them, both legitimacy and some guarantee of legal protection.

“We have to make it attractive for people to get into the system,” Mendocino County Supervisor Dan Hamburg told the newspaper, “and things like this make people say, ‘hell no.’”

There’s some questionable logic at play here.

Yes, illegal cannabis cultivation has absolutely caused significant problems in rural areas where water quality and availability is vitally important and where toxic hazards like pesticides and rodenticides are wreaking havoc with local wildlife.

At the same time, if a cannabis cultivator has bothered to go through with the investment of time and money to obtain a permit, they’re going to be less likely to throw it all away by committing environmental fouls. Most stories of illegal logging, nasty chemicals and piles of trash come from illegal grows.

Furthermore, environmental no-no’s, like illegally diverting water, aren’t exactly criminal enterprises. Yet, Fish and Wildlife wardens are treating some private citizens as if they’re cartel capos.

Here’s one example from the Press Democrat:

In a recent case, Fish and Wildlife wardens visited a Mendocino County property unannounced Aug. 10 with a search warrant and weapons drawn. They detained the residents in handcuffs for several hours while officers eradicated more than 60 nearly mature plants, searched the home and seized their county application documents, according to the residents and their attorney.

A Fish and Wildlife spokesman said the property was raided because they suspected a well was diverting water from a nearby creek.

The marijuana cultivator in question lost a crop worth $350,000, the sale of which to several dispensaries she’d already arranged. To make the situation worse, the cultivator had already had several county inspections and was cooperating fully with inspectors before Fish and Wildlife showed up with guns out.

According to county officials, Fish and Wildlife didn’t bother to contact the permitting agency before going out on their raid.

However, it’s not just game wardens. As per the Mendocino Voice, sheriff’s deputies working on drug task forces have also paid unwelcome and hostile visits to registered marijuana farms.

Other cultivators debating whether to go legit and get a permit are now having second thoughts. And anyone who did plunk down money and welcome public workers on to their property are now wondering when they’ll be next.

“People are saying, ‘I knew I shouldn’t have applied,’” said Casey O’Neill, vice-chair of the California Growers’ Association.

Let’s try to draw some parallels.

If a restaurant is violating city health codes, do police in kevlar vests respond with weapons out and destroy the restaurant in order to save the neighborhood from a bowl of fishy potato salad, without calling the health inspector? As usual, cannabis is held to an impossible double standard, and legal marijuana operators are subjected to treatment befitting members of the Zetas.

County officials are at least siding with marijuana growers. Elected officials in Trinity County sent an official letter to state authorities in charge of the Fish and Wildlife Department, asking why “a number of our current licensees and applicants are being specifically targeted.”

Applying Occam’s razor, it’s because targeting people registered with a county office is easy. Inspectors know exactly where they’re located. They have their addresses and telephone numbers. Busting a property like that is way easier than tramping around in the woods, looking for scary and dangerous fellows who are really breaking the law.

But if this keeps up, these illegal growers be the only ones willing to take the risk of cultivating cannabis. And legalization will have been successfully disrupted.

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