The cannabis black market continues to function in California, even though marijuana is legalized. Since Proposition 64 passed back in 2016, marijuana and the retail sale of it have been legal. Yet, the illegal sale of marijuana continues to prevail, especially in the High Desert area of California. These hot, desolate areas work well for those who wish to set up illegal marijuana farms. But how is it that illegal marijuana farms in California deserts continue to work? What has law enforcement done to battle these illegal farms, and what do the neighboring communities feel about this issue? 

Proposition 64 and Illegal Marijuana Farms in California Deserts

If you’re an avid marijuana smoker in California, you’re well aware of Proposition 64. As previously mentioned, proposition 64 permits adults over the age of 21 to legally possess, buy, and grow marijuana for recreational use. This was passed back in 2016. It was set to have a positive fiscal impact on the state. As discussed here, the tax revenue generated by the sale of recreational marijuana is substantial. 

Another part of the proposition was changing the way in which people became charged. Before, illegal cultivation was a felony. Now, thanks to Prop 64, illegal cultivation is charged as a misdemeanor, regardless of the number of marijuana plants. In other words, whether an individual illegally cultivates 8 plants or a thousand, they will be charged with a misdemeanor. 

This particular aspect of the prop has become an advantage point for groups of people who wish to illegally cultivate marijuana. This is what’s currently happening in the High Desert area of California. 

The Current State of Illegal Marijuana Farms 

A multitude of illegal marijuana farms has sprung up in the High Desert area of California. Across the open desert plains of San Bernardino and Los Angeles County, there’s a marijuana farm after another one. “You can’t throw a baseball without hitting one”, said Sgt. Jon Anderson, a pilot with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. 

These operations are usually in the middle of nowhere, to avoid interference from law enforcement. They’re also heavily guarded by armed forces. 

It’s become a crisis for multiple reasons. First, the way these illegal marijuana farms appear can be considered as a form of land looting. They take up space belonging to wildlife, bringing us to the second point. Secondly, it is an environmental threat. The pesticides used to cultivate these illegal operations contaminate the soil. In a recent drug bust, two dead bears were found near a large supply of pesticides. 

Third, many of these illegal operations will steal water sources from neighboring communities. They drill agricultural wells and aqueducts, as well as steal from fire hydrants. This poses a danger to working firefighters who desperately need that water. In fact, in March, so much was stolen it was affecting their water pressure. As a result, the Los Angeles County Fire Department ordered the removal of 100 hydrants in the Antelope Valley.

Lastly, the black market ultimately hurts the legitimate business of cannabis. The cultivation and sale of illegal marijuana push a stigma against weed, as well as interferes with the legal business of cannabis. 

How is law enforcement addressing this crisis? 

Law Enforcement vs Illegal Marijuana Farms in California Deserts

Law enforcement is seemingly doing anything they can to help stop the illegal cultivation of marijuana. In July, $1.19 billion worth of marijuana was seized in a drug bust from these illegal farms. That is equivalent to 16 tons of weed. The drug bust was a 10-day sting operation. 

The drug bust resulted in 22 felony arrests, 109 misdemeanor arrests, and 19 arrests from water theft enforcement teams. Aside from marijuana, law enforcement also seized a substantial amount of guns and ammunition. 

Officials say they believe international cartels are behind the illegal, large-scale marijuana farms. Sheriff Alex Villanueva from the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department addressed this during a press conference.“We want to send a clear and loud message to the cartels and anyone doing illegal operations in the High Desert: Your days are over and we’re coming for you.”

Community Outrage 

Unfortunately, those suffering the most are the residents of the area in which these illegal farms are set up. The neighboring community is understandably outraged by the condition they’re in. There is a constant threat to their safety and environment. Not to mention the theft of scarce water. These growing dangers are leaving many of the residents concerned. 

For example, a Lucerne Valley resident, whose name was excluded due to safety issues, is stressed and tired about the whole situation. They explain that there are constant shootings. In fact, one of their neighbors was shot at simply for picking up trash on their property that came from the illegal farms.