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California Destroys 1M Plants in Marijuana Eradication Campaign

California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced on Monday that law enforcement officials destroyed more than one million cannabis plants this year in the state’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting. In addition to the annual cannabis cultivation eradication campaign, more than 180,000 pounds was also harvested and processed in the 491 enforcement actions across California. This state supplies a lot of illegal cannabis market products across the nation.

Over an unspecified, 13-week period, law enforcement officers and other officials with the state’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) conducted operations in 26 counties, according to a statement from the California Department of Justice. The operation saw the seizure of 165 firearms as well 67,000 pounds (including waterlines, dams, and cultivation infrastructure) during the operation.

“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 at an appearance in San Diego on Monday. The attorney general, who as a member of the California State Assembly was a vocal supporter of cannabis policy reform and a regulated marijuana market, added that he had directed his office to review the CAMP program’s effectiveness at addressing “the environmental, labor, and economic impacts of illegal cultivation.”

“From dumping toxic chemicals in our waterways to cheating the state out of millions of tax dollars, illicit marijuana grows have far-reaching impacts and unintended consequences,” he added. “I want to thank all of our federal, state and local partners for their tireless efforts this season. It’s going to take all of us, working together, to make sure California’s cannabis industry is in the legal, regulated marketplace, not in the illicit one.”

The CAMP program is a multi-agency task force first assembled in 1983 to combat California’s illicit cannabis cultivation industry. CAMP operations are led by the California Department of Justice in partnership with the United States Forest Service; the United States Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Park Service; the California Department of Fish and Wildlife; the United States Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration; the California National Guard, and other federal, state and local agencies.

The continuing CAMP effort receives mixed reviews from California’s cannabis community, with some legal cannabis business operators applauding efforts to reign in the state’s multi-billion-dollar illicit marijuana economy. But others cite the campaign’s history of aggressive, paramilitary tactics that have included the use of helicopters and frequent display of automatic weapons and other firearms as a gross example of government overreach that terrorizes rural families.

This year: 1.2 million plants eradicated

In 2021, CAMP teams eradicated 1.2 million cannabis plants and removed cultivation infrastructure and toxic chemicals from sites in 26 of California’s 58 counties, according to state figures. Operation were conducted on private and public land, including the Los Padres National Forests, the Cleveland National Forests, San Bernardino National Forests, and the San Bernardino National Forests.

Riverside County experienced the greatest CAMP eradication activities in 2021 with 509 543 plants being killed at 135 sites. In the Emerald Triangle, Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties, a total of 301.765 plants were killed at 72 sites.

The Environmental Costs of Illicit Cannabis

In rural areas, many illegal cannabis growers divert water streams from their farms to irrigation. They also use harmful pesticides and fertilizers that could harm wildlife and ecosystems. During California’s ongoing drought, water theft is of particular concern to communities and farmers, with state officials noting that researchers have estimated that a single cannabis plant can require up to six gallons of water per day.

Greta Wengert is the Executive Director of Integral Ecology Research Center. She stated that in 2012, they began to track the environmental effects caused by illegal cannabis cultivation. Dr. Greta Wengert, the executive director of Integral Ecology Research Center, stated that they began tracking environmental damages caused by unlicensed cannabis cultivation in 2012. 

“Unfortunately, 2021 was no different in the level of these harmful tactics growers used on our National Forests and BLM and state lands, highlighting the continued need for eradication programs like CAMP to detect cultivation sites and assist law enforcement in eradicating these destructive grows,” Wengert said. “Eradication followed by safe reclamation will assist in progressing towards full protection of our nation’s treasured public lands and resources from this egregious activity.”

Bonta said that California has a duty to protect the state’s licensed cannabis businesses, which face high costs including licensing, lab testing, and taxes that unregulated operators avoid. Bonta encouraged unregulated businesses to become licensed.

“We want that market,” Bonta said, “for more and more to enter—to leave the illicit marketplace and enter the legal marketplace,” adding that state would authorities would help encourage the change “with carrots and sticks.”