A California judge recently ordered a Calaveras County property owner liable for damages after their tenant committed environmental crimes in conjunction with a cannabis operation.
Under Fish and Game Code section 12025, civil penalties can be levied against a landowner or occupant who has violated one or more environmental laws in conjunction with commercial cannabis cultivation. The code applies to both licensed and unlicensed operations and the civil penalties are added to any criminal fines.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) had its first 12025 case in front of a judge in September. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge ordered a Calaveras County landowner liable for over $680,000. The ruling was significant because the judge determined that the landowner was ultimately liable for the environmental violations despite the landowner's claim that he was not directly involved in the activity. The decision can be found here.
During the investigation, CDFW and local authorities eradicated over 6,200 plants at the unpermitted cannabis grow, which was linked to 10 separate sites where discarded vehicles, garbage and human waste were dumped in or near a stream.
"CDFW uses this authority on egregious environmental cases that threaten fish, wildlife and the habitats they depend on to survive," said David Bess, Deputy Director and Chief of the CDFW Law Enforcement Division. "Our staff have documented properties with mounds of garbage near waterways, dewatered streams and banned pesticides, all of which were detrimental to the environment."
Since October 2016, CDFW has filed 10 administrative complaints under section 12025 against landowners and tenants in Calaveras, Humboldt, Mendocino, Sonoma, Tehama and Trinity counties. Some of the parties were registered agents of limited liability companies. Of the 10 complaints, the majority were settled with terms that included remediation of the impacted property. This complaint filed in Calaveras County led to a week-long hearing and resulted in the decision above.
The total amount of civil penalties ordered to date is nearly $2 million. While all the cases to date have been on unlicensed cannabis sites, the focus is on environmental impacts from the cannabis cultivation, not the legality of the operation.
More details on state compliance can be found here.
To learn more about CDFW's cannabis program, please visit wildlife.ca.gov/cannabis or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To report environmental crimes, such as water diversions, pollution and poaching, please call the CalTIP hotline at (888) 334-2258 or text information to "TIP411" (847411).