Cities still struggling with illegal marijuana

Farmersville Police Chief Mario Krstic says backyard grows, black market sales continue to be an issue despite giving residents legal options

By Crystal Havner
Reporting for the Sun-Gazette

FARMERSVILLE – Proponents of Proposition 64 argued that legalizing recreational marijuana use would suck the air out of illicit sales of the drug. Two years later, local police departments are still dealing with backyard grows and black market sales even in cities where voters approved of the statewide initiative and implemented their own local regulations.

At its Nov. 12 meeting, Farmersville Police Chief Mario Krstic asked the city council to review regulations on residential grows and personal sales of cannabis.

“Even though cannabis use has been legalized the black market and backyard grows are alive and well,” Krstic said.

Farmersville voters approved Measure Q, which allowed the commercial sales of cannabis within the city limits, by two-thirds in November 2017. Farmersville voters also supported Proposition 64, with 51.49% voting in favor of the statewide legalization of recreational marijuana use.

Despite attempts to encourage legal sales, Krstic said fines discouraging backyard grows are not high enough to stop illegal growers.

“The state has also seen pop-up warehouses that sell until shut down, pay the fines and move on,” he said. “They are making so much money in the time it takes to do what is necessary to close them down, that it is worth it to just pay the fines.”

In Farmersville all grows must be indoors. That is true for large grows which must be in warehouses and private grows which must be indoors. Any backyard grows that are not enclosed in a permitted building are illegal.

If illegal grows are reported or spotted by law enforcement the resident is given a notice to protect and given 10 days to comply. If they do not comply, they are given a citation and fined $100 per plant and given five additional days to comply. The fine doubles to $200 a plant if the problem is not corrected and after five more days doubles again to $400 per plant per day.

“This can turn into a 30 to 60-day process,” Krstic said. “A lien can be put on the property to pay all fines. This is a long process and we have limited resources.”

Krstic said the state had four different departments that are just forming to regulate the cannabis business and most of them do not have defined roles and lack coordination.

“Sometimes these departments do not communicate well with each other, but they are working on a new fine structure that will make illegal grows less profitable,” he said. “One problem is that the decriminalization of marijuana has removed the teeth of law enforcement.”

Krstic also wanted the public to know that today’s marijuana is not the same marijuana from the 1960s and ‘70s. He said it was more potent, more readily available and easier to conceal its use.

“A joint from the past was about .25 of a gram and had THC levels of about five percent,” he said. “A ‘blunt’ from today is about a gram and can contain up to 25% THC levels. Some of the concentrates available can have 75% THC. This isn’t your parents’ weed.”

Krstic wants the council to look into raising fines, quarterly meetings with businesses and parents and to educate parents on what to look for if they suspect their children are using cannabis. 

“There are so many products out there to conceal marijuana,” he said referring to vaping devices, edibles and oils, just to name a few.

The council also purchased three parcels of land on North Farmersville Blvd for $21,100. These purchases are part of the North Farmersville Boulevard Widening Project. There are 23 properties impacted by the project. The City is currently in negations on the other necessary properties.

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