San Andreas, CA — With the typical harvest time for cannabis coming up later this month Clarke Broadcasting queried Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio about enforcement activities under the ban ordinance that has been in full effect since early June.
The county’s weather allows for two, maybe three harvests a year at outdoor grows, as the sheriff points out. While the distinctive wafting “skunk” smell is a way to determine whether there may be a grow nearby, indoor grows, especially those with highly efficient filtration systems may not be in any way discernible by scent. “We are still doing our flights and are still getting numerous complaints on our tip line and when we locate grows or get tips we continually move forward to investigate,” DiBasilio shares.
Asked if he could estimate how many illegal operations are currently operating, he replies, “There is still a handful of outdoor grows — I can’t give you an exact number…because I think that a lot of these folks have gone back under the trees under the brush and indoors.”
However, he says, one thing is for sure, “I know that there is a lot less than there was last year at this time…just because we are seeing so many sites that were registered or unregistered types that are abandoned and there is nobody there any more. All the growers that we will call legitimate that had registered and were getting licenses…have pretty much left because they don’t want to risk their state license — and the ones that were illegal, a lot of them have left because we put a lot of pressure on them during last year’s Terminus and this year’s Green Wave operations.”
Indoor Grows A Continual Challenge
Asked if it is harder now to hide outside grows, he replies, “There are so many of us out there now, multiple agencies, and so many [growers] who have left, the remaining stick out like a sore thumb.” Chuckling, he jokes that under the current ban, looking for more than the six plants legally allowed under state law makes his job real easy. “And if we see them outside it’s illegal anyway because all of it has to be done indoors [following local rules].”
To help zone in on illegal indoor grows, DiBasilio says that citizens’ tips are essential and have not decreased since last year, adding that residents seem more comfortable reporting potential illegal activities. He emphasizes that to his knowledge his office has never seen a marijuana grower go after someone after being turned in. Report it, he says, “If you see things going on… the house has been vacant but people see coming and going at weird hours or [if you] hear humming noises [indicative] of indoor fans.”
Asked if the illegal and highly toxic chemical carbofuran has turned up locally during illegal grow raids, DiBasilio shares, “That is the only chemical that we have run across that was basically banned in the United States and we found small quantities at three grows — in Burson, Railroad Flat and Mountain Ranch…and they were handled as such through hazmat because my guys are hazmat trained.” He adds that the county’s code compliance and environmental health departments may know of a few others.
Environmental Issues, Changing Laws
It is a timely topic, because use of that substance is reportedly being seen more frequently at operations busted on public lands. Due to the dangers it potentially poses to wildlife and even water supplies, it is the partially why federal and state officials launched a summer-long crackdown focusing in those areas. DiBasilio notes that his office has not received any extra funding from agencies to specifically deal with it.
The sheriff adds that his department works closely with Fish and Wildlife and the Water Boards to ensure that potential environmental issues at every grow site gets addressed by the appropriate agency. Mostly, he says, “They are embedded in our teams when we go out. When they are not present, we will inform them and if it is extravagant, we will wait for them to arrive.”
As for the rollout of state regulations, he grouses a bit, “The Sheriff’s Association gets information…at the state level about changes being made, even minor and it’s constantly changing…amazing how many in a month, maybe 15 or 20, and it is challenging to keep up.” He advises anyone with an interest or need to stay abreast to regularly monitor the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control website.
Asked if he expects things to ease a bit down the line, he retorts with another chuckle, that he is regularly in touch with Colorado law enforcement. “[They] are still experiencing a similar situation — and they have had a legal industry since 2013!”