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California marijuana busts surge despite legalization as agencies target illicit growers

·2 min read

Four years after weed became legal in California for adult recreational use, state law enforcement officials have doubled the amount of illicit marijuana plants seized and eradicated in an annual campaign.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta on Monday announced that the California Department of Justice’s annual Campaign Against Marijuana Planting program, also known as CAMP, had eradicated nearly 1.2 million illegally cultivated cannabis plants this year.

That’s up from 614,267 plants seized in 2018, the first year that recreational marijuana was legal in California.

The CAMP program has steadily ratcheted up enforcement over the years, with 953,459 plants eradicated in 2019 and 1.1 million plants destroyed in 2020.

The numbers remain well below what agencies seized during California’s peak enforcement against illegal marijuana grows. In 2009, the CAMP program destroyed some 4.5 million plants, according to records kept by Humboldt State University.

Increased enforcement comes as California’s illicit market cannabis industry is estimated to generate $8 billion in annual sales, compared to the legal market’s $4.4 billion, according to cannabis industry reporting website MJBizDaily.

Licensed marijuana growers and retailers blame the illicit dealers for hindering their growth, and have called for the state to rethink taxes levied on the industry to help them compete.

Over 13 weeks this year, the CAMP program seized more than 180,000 pounds of marijuana and 165 weapons, and removed more than 67,000 pounds of cultivation infrastructure, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

Bonta on Monday called for a six-month review of the CAMP program, which is conducted in partnership with local, state and federal agencies, in order to adapt the program to changes to the law since the program first was initiated in the 1980s.

“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 statement. “Today, I’m directing my office to review the CAMP program and ensure that we are using our resources to effectively address the environmental, labor, and economic impacts of illegal cultivation. From dumping toxic chemicals in our waterways to cheating the state out of millions of tax dollars, illicit marijuana grows have far-reaching impacts and unintended consequences.”

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