Cannabis is technically legal in SLO County. Still, 14,200 pounds of weed were destroyed

Code enforcement officers ripped out 7,700 cannabis plants and destroyed 14,200 pounds of processed buds in San Luis Obispo County in the past 10 months — and more enforcement actions are coming soon, according to the county Planning and Building Department.

Californians voted to legalize marijuana in 2016, and the county allows cultivation in some unincorporated areas, at least on paper. Ninety-nine business owners applied last year to become legal, legit cannabis businesses. Yet as of April, none have been fully permitted.

In the meantime, 124 sites were ordered to destroy plants and product. In cases where the owners didn’t comply, 27 warrants were issued to the Sheriff’s Office and Code Enforcement since May 2018 to destroy material.

The confiscations were the result of a nuisance abatement program meant to remove cannabis activity that has been found to be in violation of the county’s cannabis code.

Cultivation allowed under the collective/cooperative model will soon be sunsetting, meaning there will likely be an increase in enforcement against organizations not permitted by the county and state.

All of those ordered to destroy plants were also charged hefty fees and fines, some of which reached $100,000 or more for large grows that cultivated past a voluntary abatement deadline, according to a staff report.

The Planning Department intends to send fines to collection to pursue assessment of costs against the property tax bill. But many fines relate to sites in California Valley, which are not a source of recovery because of the low property values.

For example, there are currently 2.5 acre parcels listed for sale there for $8,000.

Other crimes found on grow sites

In addition to plants, officers allegedly found other crimes and violations, including the manufacturing of concentrated THC oil (honey oil labs), felons in possession of firearms, auto theft, environmental crimes and construction violations related to use of illegal structures and improvements, according to Erika Schuetze, a county planner.

The Sheriff’s Office and the Planning Department are evaluating options for how best to respond to those kind of violations, according to a staff report submitted to the Board of Supervisors for a March 26 meeting.

So far, code enforcement officers have inspected approximately 500 sites for unlawful cannabis. Some of those sites belong to organizations working through the permitting process. Another 124 became cases before a new cannabis hearing officer, whose job it is to hear evidence about unlawful cannabis operators and issue abatement orders outside of the court system.

Most of the cases, by far, were in California Valley, adjacent to the Carrizo Plain National Monument, where visitors to this year’s super bloom have seen the remnants of abandoned grows; squared fencing and large green water tanks dot the undeveloped subdivision roads in the desert.

So far, the only items removed from the grow sites under warrant are cannabis plants.

Other trash and infrastructure will be cleaned up later by the county, only after coordination with state and federal wildlife agencies to ensure compliance with protected species and habitats codes, Schuetze said.

Here’s where unlawful cannabis activities have been abated:

  • 89 cases in California Valley
  • 17 cases in South County, concentrated near Highway 1 between Willow and Eucalyptus roads
  • 3 cases in supervisor District 3, concentrated between rural San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande
  • 11 cases scattered in North Coast
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Monica Vaughan reports on health, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo County, oil and wildlife at The Tribune. She previously covered crime and justice in the Sacramento Valley, is a graduate of the University of Oregon journalism school and is a sixth-generation Californian. Have an idea for a story? Email: mvaughan@thetribunenews.com