On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to do something that has been overshadowed by the efforts of California’s legalization movement: crack down on illegal grows. The vote came as a response to a request by L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to the board to reconsider a ban on growing cannabis that was implemented in 2015.

The County Board of Supervisors is expected to take a closer look at how the County handles illegal grows, with a focus on the proliferation of large-scale facilities that exceed state-provided grow limits and endanger the health of surrounding neighborhoods. There is a growing public perception that the County is not doing enough to crack down, and state regulations aren’t enough to keep these dangerous grows in check.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors today voted to cooperate with federal, state and local authorities to end illegal cannabis cultivation in the Antelope Valley, while agreeing to revise the county’s long-standing ban on the sale of commercial marijuana.

Three weeks ago, City Councilmember Katherine Barger warned that commercial cannabis and hemp growers in her district were using dangerous pesticides, stealing water from fire hydrants, and terrifying their neighbors. However, she failed to gain the support of her colleagues for the action plan, which called for tougher criminal penalties and needed four votes to be adopted.

On Tuesday, Barger asked for support for a substitute motion, co-sponsored by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, that would not impose more severe penalties. The resolution was adopted unanimously.

Make no mistake, illegal marijuana cultivation is a phenomenon throughout Los Angeles. Illegal growers use unregulated chemicals to process marijuana (and) sell the products to legal and illegal dispensaries in the Los Angeles basin and beyond, putting cannabis consumers at risk, Barger said.

She said two bears were poisoned by pesticides near a farm in the valley, adding that the problem was not limited to outdoor crops.

In the middle of the valley, many parcels of land are open farmed, surrounded by trash and debris, and inside, homes are built into residential neighborhoods, turning family homes into suburban cannabis farms, Barger said.

In public comments, residents outlined a lawless situation where residents were held at gunpoint and law enforcement was virtually non-existent.

This isn’t the Wild West. Our taxpaying citizens need to be safe in the Fifth Ward and not intimidated by cartel thugs, said Green Valley Councilman Joe Randles. Our groundwater is being contaminated by grow chemicals, our water systems are being degraded by theft, our land is being destroyed, and Joshua’s protected trees are being destroyed. It’s a disaster in the making.

Chris Minsal, a longtime North County resident and president of the Perblossom City Council, said he wants commercial cannabis to be regulated, not banned, to generate tax revenue with which to combat illegal operators.

Never in my life (have I) seen so much lawlessness as last year, with people doing what they want because they all know there are only one, maybe two sheriffs in an area as big as the San Fernando Valley at any given time, Minsal said. It is easy to hide, threaten people, take over a city and destroy the quality of life of its inhabitants.

Other residents spoke out against commercialization, saying that no other jurisdiction has had success in combating illegal transactions, but all agreed that more money and resources are needed.

The council not only asked the state for additional powers and resources to crack down on illegal growers, but also agreed to $250,000 to increase the number of sheriff’s patrols in the area. The Council also requested a report on a possible increase of funds from this year’s supplementary budget.

Jeffrey Hillinger, Vice President of the Littlerock City Council, stated that he lives across the street from four different grow facilities.

It’s just ridiculous here. I encourage other members of the Observer Council to come here. Maybe get in a helicopter and fly around to see what’s going on with our desert and all those drugs, Hillinger said.

The council also voted on a separate motion from Supervisor Janice Hahn to reconsider her longstanding ban on commercial cannabis.

Offering a legal route will help us fight the illegal market by giving them a legal option, Hahn said.

In October 2017, about a year after California voted to legalize recreational marijuana use, a county task force produced a report with dozens of recommendations for regulating the retail, production and distribution of cannabis.

Hahn, who was among those who set the report aside, said it was time to dust it off and reconvene the stakeholder group.

I think it’s time to have this conversation again and think about how we can safely implement the will of the voters when they approved Proposition 64, Hahn said.

Barger agreed with the idea of revising the blanket ban, though she said she didn’t think it would prevent illegal activity.

Barger said one of the reasons she decided not to review the county’s ban earlier was a memo from then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructing all U.S. Attorneys to enforce federal marijuana laws. The district attorney told Barger he thought the memorandum had already been withdrawn, but said his office would check.

The ban on marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas has been in place since 2010, and was expanded in 2017 to include the cultivation, production, testing and distribution of the drug for non-personal use.

California voted to legalize cannabis in 2016, and legal recreational sales began in January 2018.

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