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California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Announces Enforcement for Illegal Cannabis Growing Season

In a July 1 press release, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Department of Cannabis Control announced that they would jointly authorise enforcement teams to oversee the 2022 cannabis-growing season. It is an annual announcement. The CDFW had also made the same announcement in July 2013 about its preparations for the 2021 season.

This effort is funded by Proposition 64 which enables these government agencies to focus on protecting “priority watersheds and areas with sensitive habitat and/or threatened or endangered species.” The agencies will work with local county, state, and federal groups to ensure enforcement is properly handled.

“The environmental impacts of illegal cannabis operations can last decades and cause irreparable harm to our natural resources,” said CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division David Bess. “Those not complying with state laws and disregarding the environmental impacts associated with illegal cultivation practices will be subject to enforcement actions.”

California’s water supplies and wildlife are affected by illegal cannabis cultivation operations that divert water. “Tributary streams are often critical in providing clear, cold water for larger waterways,” the press release states. “Many sensitive aquatic species such as southern torrent salamanders, coastal tailed frogs, steelhead and coho salmon rely on these tributaries in the late summer months to maintain water quality and temperatures necessary for survival.”

Furthermore, the health of these streams directly affects the “physical, biological, and chemical impact” of the entire local area, which is home to countless creatures whose habitat needs to be maintained.

California is experiencing a drought that has been unprecedented. It is crucial to ensure waterways safety. “Complying with the state’s cannabis regulations is even more critical in drought conditions when limited water supply is available and water quality impacts are magnified,” said State Water Resources Control Board Office of Enforcement Director Yvonne West. “I am proud to work with so many individuals in the cannabis community dedicated to regulated and environmentally conscientious cultivation. The State Water Board is committed to taking enforcement action against those who harm our precious water resources.”

Joyce Dudley, Santa Barbara County District Attorney, also made a statement addressing illegal cannabis cultivation operations. “My office is committed to criminal and civil enforcement to protect the environment and public safety,” said Dudley. “Environmental harms from cannabis cultivation can be severe and long-term, including exposure to dangerous pesticides, water quality degradation, and wildlife injury. Lawful growers should not be allowed to have an unfair advantage over those who break the law. My office will continue to collaborate with our local and state agency partners to ensure compliance with the law.”

San Bernardino and other California counties are supporting legislation that aims to protect groundwater, as well as eliminate illegal grow. Assembly Bill 2728, as well as Senate Bill 1426 were sponsored by County. These bills would establish fines for violators. Researchers found that cannabis plants could require up to 6 gallons per day of water depending on the stage they are in. This is during their growing season which runs from June to October.

Assemblymember Tom Lackey, addressing illegal cannabis growers that pollute local water supplies at a press conference held in May. “To any of those who are engaged in the illicit grows: I want you to know there’s a collective effort, and we’re coming after you,” said Lackey. “You come after a very sacred thing: our community. You come after our desert, and you’re stealing our water. You’re poisoning our land, and enough is enough.”

Los Angeles County also works to eradicate illegal cannabis plants. In July 2021, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department made one of its largest seizures of illegal cannabis, which was valued at $1.2 billion.