A state lawmaker has warned that international drug traffickers are diverting valuable resources from California to cultivate plants. The Washington Examiner reports that growers are purchasing vacant lots and houses to build sophisticated greenhouses and farms that draw critically needed resources from Californians suffering from water shortages and electric brownouts. California State Senator Melissa Hurtado believes that many of the property owners are affiliated with cartels in China and Russia.
Hurtado stated, “We are going to have to start prioritizing what is important to us, and it boils down to water for health and water for food. The status quo for legal marijuana is not going to cut it for us. My fear is that it’s going to be too late before people realize the legalization of marijuana was a mistake because of the cost to the environment.” Additionally, she claimed that “The problem is that there hasn’t been a focus from the state to partner up with the federal government to tackle the illegal groves. They are out of control. Unless you have the federal government looking into the actual company, there is only so much the state can do and find out about these bad actors and their financial schemes.”
Sgt. Mike Charman of the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Department said that small-scale farming has been used by Mexican cartels for many years, but this new type of criminal activity is concerning. He explained that “The punishment is so minimal and the reward is so great, there is no incentive to follow the rules. If you get caught, it’s no big deal. The teeth to the law are just not there. The state wanted to bring in revenue with marijuana licenses, and now, we have this problem.”
California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996 and since then multiple Western states have followed suit. Hurtado, who represents a sizable farming area in the center of the state, noted that as a result, thousands of farms have spread around the state and are now wasting billions of gallons of water annually that should be going to houses and farmers. However, in California, penalties are minimal to nonexistent and often consist of just a ticket. Whether the offender has 100 plants or 100,000, growing marijuana illegally and possessing it with the intent to sell are both crimes and a state permit is necessary for commercial growers to operate.