An ongoing operation in southern California culminated on Sunday, yielding the arrests of 34 people and the seizure of more than 33,000 marijuana plants.
The sheriff’s department in San Bernardino County, California said that “Operation Hammerstrike” was carried out between November 1 and November 7 by investigators from the department’s Marijuana Enforcement Team (MET), as well as San Bernardino sheriff’s deputies “from several different Patrol Stations.”
The department said that it was the 10th week of Operation Hammerstrike.
Together, they “served 26 search warrants at various locations in Lucerne Valley, San Bernardino, Twentynine Palms, Wonder Valley, Helendale, Newberry Springs, Pinon Hills, Phelan, Daggett, Barstow and Rancho Cucamonga” in arresting 34 suspects and seizing 33,189 marijuana plants, 8,588 pounds of processed marijuana, nine guns and more than $24,000 in cash.
Those suspects “were cited or booked on charges of Cultivation of Cannabis, over six plants, Possession for Sales of Marijuana, Illegal Water Discharge and Possession of a Firearm with Obliterated Serial Number,” the department said.
Moreover, investigators said they “eradicated a total of 211 greenhouses found at [those] locations, as well as two indoor locations,” and that they “mitigated one electrical bypass.”
“MET personnel had received numerous complaints about large outdoor and indoor marijuana cultivations in these areas,” the sheriff’s department said. “The investigations revealed the cannabis cultivations were not in compliance with California’s Medical and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) and San Bernardino County’s ordinance prohibiting Commercial Cannabis Activity.
“San Bernardino County has a law prohibiting Commercial Cannabis Activity, which includes growing marijuana plants outdoors. The Sheriff’s Gangs/Narcotics Division will continue to enforce California’s cannabis laws and San Bernardino County’s ordinance regarding cannabis cultivation and distribution. Persons found guilty of violating the state law and county ordinance are subject to fines, prosecution, and seizure of property.”
California voters legalized recreational pot use and sales by passing a ballot measure, Proposition 64, in 2016. But five years later, the illicit market continues to thrive in the Golden State, and this is an issue the state is still working on tackling.
A report over the weekend by National Public Radio noted that “fully legal weed makes up just a fraction of the state’s marijuana market, with some experts estimating that 80 to 90 percent of cannabis sales in California still fall into a legal gray zone.”
NPR interviewed Amanda Chicago Lewis, a reporter who covers the cannabis industry, who said that “the problem is the legal market is expensive to join if you are a seller, if you’re a grower,” and that “it’s expensive to participate as a consumer.” The unregulated market, by contrast, poses little barrier to entry for prospective sellers, as well as cheaper products.
The trend has also occurred in other places, such as Canada, where recreational marijuana is likewise legal.
That means that operations like the one in San Bernardino County over the last week have continued to be common in California.
Last month, the state’s attorney general, Rob Bonta, said that California law enforcement officials had destroyed more than a million marijuana plants this year as part of the so-called “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 at the time.
To that end, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department warned that property owners “who are growing marijuana or are aware their tenants are growing marijuana on their properties in violation of the state law and local ordinances may also be subject to civil or criminal sanctions.”