The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office seized close to $2.5 million in marijuana from an unregistered grow site in Mountain Ranch during a raid on Tuesday.
The grow site on Whiskey Slide Road was one of the largest that the county has eradicated. Close to 10, 100-foot-long hot houses lined a flattened property.
“These guys are serious,” said Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio.
Tuesday’s eradication was part of a four-day marijuana clearing plan in Calaveras County. The plan took three months to put together and involved six different government and public agencies. The effort included up to 130 personnel across three different teams spread out across the county. The goal – to hit as many unregistered grow sites as possible. The operation began on Aug. 1.
This year, 11 locations have been eradicated with county resources. Sheriff deputies located over 13,500 plants, 476 pounds of processed marijuana and weapons and $62,000 in cash. That was before this week’s eradications.
On Monday alone, 12,617 plants were seized across five properties in the West Point, Rail Road Flat and Mountain Ranch areas. Seven arrests were made, two weapons were seized and two structures were red-tagged. Each of those five locations were smaller than the Whiskey Slide location that was cleared out on Tuesday.
DiBasilio said the eradication team would hit as many locations as it could, depending on their manpower at the time.
When asked how many grow sites he hoped to get to over a four-day stretch, DiBasilio simply answered: “More.”
Eradications like this week’s, he said, are only the beginning.
Calaveras County residents can expect more to come thanks to an ordinance passed by county officials to help streamline the clearing of illegal marijuana grow sites.
Frustrated by the lengthy eradication appeal process, the county passed the 8.06 ordinance, which decreased the 120-day appeal process for illegal marijuana grow sites.
The ordinance not only shortened the appeal process timeline, but explicitly authorized the building official and code compliance unit to enforce violations of county and applicable and state codes.
The ordinance also updated language to make the entire process more easily understandable for residents.
In February, Code Compliance Officer Courtney Minehart said that by getting to more illegal grow sites a quicker pace, the word would get out to illegal growers “and we’ll get rid of some of the bad actors. We’ll be able to work fast enough this year to go after them when it hurts the most, when they are ready to harvest.”
DiBasilio said that the preparations that goes into planning for an eradication won’t change much depending on if the Sheriff’s Office is responding to an grow site that is not under compliance through the ordinance or if they are serving a search warrant on a criminal charge, the timeframe is just different.
DiBasilio said that it wasn’t rare for property owners to lease legally owned properties to individuals who then begin planting marijuana without their knowledge.
For example, one of the men arrested on Monday, was from Florida. ON SUSPICION
“Just because they own the property doesn’t mean they are the owner of ‘this’, he said, pointing toward the seemingly endless supply of unprocessed marijuana being hauled out of the multiple hotboxes.
At the Mountain Ranch location, the grow site operators attempted to register with the county last year, but were denied. DiBasilio was unsure at the time why the site was denied.
Despite the denial, growers continue to cultivate on site.
“You have to remember, he got away with it last year,” said DiBasilio. “We didn’t have the man power or ability to hit all the sites.”
With so much money involved, people are willing to take a risk, DiBasilio said.
“He made $2.4 million last year, why not gamble and go for it again this year?” he continued
Like it or not, it’s undeniable that marijuana is becoming big business in Calaveras County. According to a recent study by the University of the Pacific, marijuana contributes to $339 million in annual economic impact in Calaveras, a little under 3,404 jobs and $172 million in worker income spread across close to 700 registered grow sites.
The county has collected $6.7 million in registration fees thanks to the urgency ordinance.
As the county leadership decides the future of commercial cannabis, illegal growers are quickly learning that in the meantime, they won’t be allowed to grow in prosperity.