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San Bernardino’s Operation Hammer Strike Concludes Illegal Cannabis Eradication

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 investigations concluded that offenders had violated the California Medical and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act and San Bernardino County ordinance. Commercial cannabis is not allowed in the county. It also prohibits outdoor cultivation of cannabis.

Operation Hammer Strike is over, but the department says that sheriffs in each county will still 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 started in September 2021. There were 1,285 reported illegal cannabis grows in the county at the time. The MET started in September with a search warrant inquiry of Hesperia and Pinon Hills and Phelan. This resulted to numerous arrests and seizures, including cannabis plants, cannabis products, firearms, cash, and $30,000 cash. Another investigation was conducted in September, which resulted in more product and plant seizures. The trend was evident throughout 2021 as well as 2022. Press releases described the investigation in November 2021. February 2022. March 2022.

San Bernardino County sponsored March’s state legislation, Assembly Bill 2728 and Senate Bill 426. These bills were to prohibit 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. Their decision is mine. 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. 

One San Bernardino County region reported no further cannabis grow reports by May 2022. “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. Dawn Rowe from San Bernardino County commented on her quick response. “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.

The state-wide effort to eradicate illegal marijuana has been going on steadily. California Attorney Rob Bonta, in October 2021 announced that over 1 million cannabis plants were destroyed as a result of the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting. “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.

In July 2018, agencies such as the California Department of Fish and Wildlife authorized enforcement teams to conduct investigations into illegal cultivation in the 2022 growing seasons.

Bonta, who was announcing that CAMP would be renamed the Eradication and Prevention of Illicit Cannabis in October, said that CAMP would now continue to conduct investigations into illegal cannabis cultivation. “The illicit marketplace outweighs the legal marketplace,” Bonta said. “It’s upside down and our goal is complete eradication of the illegal market.”