Sacramento, California (AP) – With California’s four-year-old legal marijuana market in disarray, the state attorney general said Tuesday he will try a new, broader approach to disrupting illegal pot plantations that undermine the legal economy and cause widespread environmental damage.
The state will expand its nearly four-decade multi-agency seasonal eradication program — the largest in the United States that this year collected nearly 1 million marijuana plants — in a year-round effort aimed at investigating who is behind the illegal growth. Attorney General Rob Ponta said the new program will attempt to prosecute core labor crimes, environmental crimes and the underground economy centered around illegal farming.
He called it an “important shift in mindset and mission” that’s also aimed at helping California’s struggling legal market By removing dangerous competition.
“The illicit market outweighs the legal one,” Ponta said. “It’s upside down and our goal is to completely eradicate the illegal market.”
In line with the new approach, the annual campaign against marijuana cultivation ( camp The program began under Republican Governor George Dikemjian in 1983 and will become a permanent task force on the Eradication and Prevention of Illicit Cannabis (EPIC), Ponta said.
Ponta said the program started at a “very different time, a different era, a different moment during the failed war on drugs and (in) a time when cannabis was still completely illegal.”
The seasonal eradication program, which lasts about 90 days each summer, will continue in collaboration with other federal, state and local agencies. They include the US Forest Service, the US Bureau of Land Management, the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the National Park Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California State Parks, and the California National Guard, some of which will also participate in the new task force. , He said.
The task force will work with the state attorneys general of the Department of Justice, the Department’s cannabis control division and current tax refunds in the underground economy ( Right The task force created by law in 2020, all with the goal of bringing civil and criminal cases against those behind the illegal increases.
Federal and state prosecutors in California have long tried, without much success, to target organized crime syndicates behind hidden plantations rather than the itinerant workers often hired to care and guard remote marijuana lots scattered across public and private lands.
Workers often live in primitive camps without running water or sewage and use caustic pesticides to kill animals that might eat the growing plants. But the pollution they left behind spread into the water supply downstream Pesticides can spread through the food chain.
The workers are victims of human trafficking, Ponta said, “living in miserable conditions alone for months on end and without a way out. These are not the people who are profiting from the illegal cannabis industry. They are being abused, they are the victims. They are cogs in a much bigger and more organized machine.”
For example, about 80% of the 44 illegal growth sites found in and around Bureau of Land Management properties this year have been linked to drug-trafficking organizations, said Karen Moritzyn, director of the California office.
“There are clearly significant challenges in terms of organized crime,” Ponta said. But he said he expects better results this time around because new efforts by multiple agencies throughout the year “will make a big impact, a little bit of a bitch and a lot of hype around our shared priority to tackle the illicit market, including at the highest levels.”
Ponta is running to keep his job from Republican challenger and former federal prosecutor Nathan Hochman in next month’s election. He is adopting an approach newly familiar by Democrats across the country in focusing on dealers who supply illegal drugs rather than users who support the underground economy. President Joe Biden said last week he would issue a pardon Thousands of Americans have been convicted of “minor possession” of marijuana under federal law, while San Francisco officials announce a new attempt to curb the open drug trade..
The year-round approach, Hochman said, “is long overdue.” “Only by hitting illegal drug growers where it hurts, by seizing their plants and their proceeds, will California be able to help the legitimate cannabis industry survive and thrive.”
For those trying to exist under the legal market that California voters agreed to in 2016, the problem was low pot prices, restricted sales, and high taxes. despite of Last Cancellation From the cannabis cultivation tax, and the fact that buyers can find better deals in the burgeoning underground market.
Aside from nearly a million plants that Ponta estimates are worth about $1 billion, this year’s elimination program seized more than 100 tons of manufactured marijuana, 184 guns, and about 33 tons of materials used to grow the plants, including dams, water lines, and containers for toxic chemicals. Including pesticides and fertilizers.