Federal and state officials in California launched a summerlong effort to clamp down on illegal cannabis cultivators and discovered that nine of every 10 farms raided contained traces of powerful and potentially lethal pesticides, authorities said Tuesday.
The findings underline what many in the state’s licensed cannabis industry have long bemoaned: They’re losing significant market share to illicit players that don’t care about regulations.
The crackdown – aided by $2.5 million in federal money – led to 95 unlicensed growing sites and the removal of more than 10 tons of illegal fertilizer, pesticides and chemicals.
McGregor Scott, the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of California, said federal authorities are concentrating on hazardous illegal grows on public land instead of targeting California’s legal recreational marijuana industry.
“This isn’t about the marijuana, it’s about the damage that’s being done,” he said in an interview before a news conference to announce the findings. “What is happening here is illegal under anybody’s law.”
Investigators suspect some illegal grows are now being moved into agricultural areas where they blend in alongside legitimate marijuana and other crops.
“Because of the legalization, our operating theory is that it’s a whole lot easier to go set up a greenhouse in the valley somewhere than it is to have to pack all of this stuff into the national forest,” Scott said in the interview.
The cannabis in the illegal grows is mostly headed out of state and could not pass California’s stringent standards for legal marijuana because traces of the toxic chemicals are often found in the plants, officials noted.
– Associated Press and Marijuana Business Daily