Illegal cannabis has grown despite legal marijuana on the market

Tulare County Grant Jury finds illegal marijuana grows have proliferated, RMA lacks manpower to handle investigations

By Kaitlin Washburn @KWashy12

TULARE COUNTY – Since recreational marijuana was legalized in 2016, the number of illegal cannabis grows in Tulare County has increased, according to a recent report from the Tulare County Grand Jury.

The report also found that the Resource Management Agency, which oversees civil code enforcement for marijuana grows in the county, doesn’t have the staff to deal with the increased workload.

Michael Washam, the associate director of economic development and planning for the Tulare County Resource Management Agency, said the agency’s workload has increased since Proposition 64 was passed. However, The Tulare County Board of Supervisors recently approved the addition of two building and zoning inspectors to the agency, and their responsibilities will also include marijuana grow enforcement.

The agency is in charge of issuing fines if someone is not in compliance. Currently, the agency only has one full-time marijuana code enforcement inspector. The Grand Jury recommended the Resource Management Agency should hire additional certified code enforcement inspectors for the marijuana program.

In California, six cannabis plants per private residence is allowed indoors for personal use and 12 plants are allowed for personal medical use. Outdoor cultivation is prohibited. Complaints are usually filed by concerned neighbors or an inspector who spots suspicious cannabis grows, Washam said.

Since 2016, the number of complaints has fluctuated. The agency received 237 complaints in 2016, 389 in 2017, 285 in 2018 and 123 so far in 2019. The Tulare County Sheriff’s Office served 100 search warrants in 2018 for illegal grows. The Sheriff’s Office also received 350 citizens’ marijuana cultivation complaints, according to the grand jury findings.

Once the agency receives a complaint, an inspector visits the suspected property to confirm the alleged illegal grow. If a resident is, for example, growing cannabis outdoors or has seven plants instead of six, then the violation is confirmed, Washam said.

The resident then has 10 days to clear out the cannabis. If they haven’t cleared it out once the 10 days are up, the agency issues them a 30-day notice of violation. At that point, the agency is authorized to remove the plants, especially if they are nearing a harvest, Washam said.

One of the report’s findings was that even when someone grows cannabis illegally and subsequently pays a fine, they still harvest the plant and sell it. Washam disputed this finding, he said the person is still required to remove the plants after they’ve paid the fine.

In June, Washam said the agency uncovered a particularly large operation. They found that a resident was growing cannabis in between rows of corn on their property. The resident also had thousands of smaller plants in various rooms throughout the house and heat lamps for drying marijuana.

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