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San Bernardino County Sponsors New State Legislation to Stop Illegal Cannabis Farming

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San Bernardino County has sponsored new state legislation AB 2728 (Smith) and SB 1426 (Caballero) that will increase fines for illegal cannabis farming and target the illegal pollution of groundwater by illicit cannabis cultivators. The County is also seeking $10 million in state funding to clean up environmental damage at hundreds of illegal cannabis sites and is strongly backing several related illegal cannabis bills in Sacramento.

“Illegal cannabis farming is devastating the desert communities of San Bernardino County,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman 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.”

“I appreciate these legislators’ efforts to give law enforcement practical and meaningful tools to address illegal marijuana cultivation,” said San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus. “I look forward to our continued collaboration as we work to address issues which affect the residents in our communities.”

California voters approved Proposition 64 in 2016, legalizing recreational marijuana and allowing the private growing of up to six cannabis plants for personal use. This ballot measure also notably reduced the penalty for illegal cannabis cultivation from a felony to a misdemeanor. As a result, local law enforcement agencies and district attorneys have struggled to arrest lawbreakers and discourage illegal cannabis farming because of their inability to jail repeat offenders.

“California law on cannabis crimes lacks serious penalties,” said Board of Supervisors Vice Chair  Dawn Rowe. “If someone grows 7, 700, or 70,000 cannabis plants without a license the punishment is all the same – it is a misdemeanor. State law needs real punishments to eliminate large-scale illegal cannabis farms or rural Californians will continue to suffer.”

AB 2728 is authored by Assemblymember Thurston “Smitty” Smith, who represents the Victor Valley cities in the State Assembly. While current state law carries fines for unlicensed cannabis activity, this new bill would add an additional civil penalty based on the size of the illegal farming operation, thereby distinguishing between minor infractions and large, well-organized industrial-scale illegal cannabis operations. AB 2728 is sponsored by San Bernardino County.

“The people of California let their voices be heard and chose to decriminalize cannabis. I support their choice,” said Smith. “However, what they I didn’t ask for was rampant cultivation and an illegal market sucking up resources, destroying the environment, and putting our communities at risk.”  

San Bernardino County has also sponsored SB 1426, a bill carried by State Sen. Anna Caballero of Salinas. SB 1426 amends state law to specifically address the environmental damage and unique water-related crimes of illegal cannabis growing. This includes the theft or pollution of groundwater, illegal access to water conveyance or storage infrastructure, digging an unpermitted, illegal well, and polluting groundwater with illegal pesticides, or the excessive use of rodenticides, herbicides, pesticides, or other hazardous chemicals.

“Illegal cannabis farming is killing wildlife and wreaking environmental damage across the state,” Caballero said. “This bill will help stop the pollution of our groundwater supply and the theft of water, which are all the more important during an ongoing multi-year drought.”

San Bernardino County is also seeking $10 million from the state budget to help clean up illegal cannabis farming sites that have been cleared of marijuana plants but have tons of waste on site. While the County’s Code Enforcement teams have been actively working to restore the desert landscape, this additional funding will greatly facilitate their efforts.

The County is also pleased to support two illegal cannabis bills that have been introduced in Sacramento. This first is AB 2421, authored by Assemblymember Blanca Rubio of Baldwin Park and sponsored by Los Angeles County. This important bill enhances the enforcement authority of county counsels and city attorneys to civilly prosecute and enjoin water theft and water pollution.

The second bill is AB 1727, also by Assemblymember Smith. This legislation restores the criminal penalty for illegal cannabis cultivation to a felony, as it was before the passage of Proposition 64.

Source: SB County

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