The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) and State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) have aligned their cannabis enforcement teams for the 2022 watershed protection season.
The multiagency task force is one of several coordinated efforts to tackle illicit cannabis cultivation that illegally diverts water resources, harms sensitive habitats and can exacerbate drought conditions. Since 2018, CDFW and their partners have eradicated over 19.2 million illegal cannabis plants and destroyed 918,591 pounds of illegally processed cannabis statewide.
Tackling the illegal market across the entire supply chain requires coordination with various county, state and federal agencies, with CDFW taking the lead on illegal outdoor cultivation operations in conjunction with the SWRCB and local law enforcement teams. In San Bernardino, for instance, CDFW and their partners have supported county enforcement in over 200 search warrants for years 2020 and 2021, which resulted in over 150 arrests.
With technological advancements creating year-round illegal cultivation, CDFW has partnered with DCC and others to adapt to new trends in the illicit market. In the last year, DCC enforcement teams have seized more than half a million pounds of illegal cannabis product, eradicated more than 1.2 million illegal cannabis plants and made 188 arrests.
As authorized by California Fish and Game Code, section 12029, CDFW, DCC and SWRCB established a Watershed Enforcement Program to address environmental impacts associated with cannabis cultivation.
Funded by voter approved Proposition 64, the multiagency task force focuses on priority watersheds and areas with sensitive habitat and/or threatened or endangered species. County, state and federal partners also play an important role in ensuring the success of these objectives through enforcement support and the judicial process. The environmental impacts from unlawful water diversions and habitat destruction associated with illegal cannabis cultivation can have detrimental effects on fish and wildlife, and their habitats, which are held in trust by the state for the benefit of the people.
California’s streams, which are common victims to illegal water diversions, play an important role in ecosystem biodiversity and habitat value. Tributary streams are often critical in providing clear, cold water for larger waterways. Many sensitive aquatic species such as southern torrent salamanders, coastal tailed frogs, steelhead and coho salmon rely on these tributaries in the late summer months to maintain water quality and temperatures necessary for survival.
Disruption of stream systems also has significant physical, biological and chemical impacts that extend into the surrounding habitat adversely affecting not only the fish and wildlife species dependent on the stream itself, but also the plants and wildlife in the surrounding area that rely on the adjacent habitat for feeding, reproduction and shelter.
With continued drought conditions, protection of our water resources is paramount for the long-term survival of the plants, fish and wildlife that depend on them.
Throughout the state, CDFW, DCC, SWRCB, county partners and local code enforcement agencies, among others, are actively addressing illegal cannabis cultivation and unauthorized construction activity to protect these resources.
For more information about becoming a licensed commercial cannabis farmer, visit the DCC website at cannabis.ca.gov, call (844) 61-CA-DCC (844-612-2322) or send an email to email@example.com. To report suspected illegal cannabis activity, visit cannabis.ca.gov/resources/file-complaint.
To learn more about CDFW’s cannabis program, visit wildlife.ca.gov/cannabisor email firstname.lastname@example.org. To report environmental crimes, such as pollution, illegal water diversions and poaching, please call the CalTIP hotline at (888) 334-2258 or text information to “TIP411” (847411).
To learn more about the State and Regional Water Board’s role in cannabis cultivation permitting, visit waterboards.ca.gov/cannabis. For compliance assistance regarding the Division of Water Quality Cannabis Cultivation General Order, send an email to email@example.com or call (916) 341-5580. For compliance assistance regarding the Division of Water Rights Small Irrigation Use Registration, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (916) 319-9427.
More details on fines, fees and administrative penalties for illegally cultivating cannabis can be found here.
Comments from Task Force and Partners
“The environmental impacts of illegal cannabis operations can last decades and cause irreparable harm to our natural resources,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “Those not complying with state laws and disregarding the environmental impacts associated with illegal cultivation practices will be subject to enforcement actions.”
“CDFW fully supports the regulated cannabis market and applauds those taking steps to comply with state laws,” said Sarah Paulson, Acting Cannabis Program Director. “With the second year of drought conditions, our native plants, fish and wildlife are feeling the pressure to feed, breed and survive. Protecting our natural resources is more important than ever.”
“Our enforcement actions protect the environment and our communities from the harm brought by illegal cultivation, as well as help provide a level playing field for legal operators in the cannabis market,” said Bill Jones, Deputy Director of Enforcement at the Department of Cannabis Control. “Our law enforcement team is proud to partner with state and local agencies on these efforts and evolve our tactics to keep up with the proliferation of year-round illegal cultivation operations."
“Complying with the state’s cannabis regulations is even more critical in drought conditions when limited water supply is available and water quality impacts are magnified,” said Yvonne West, Director, Office of Enforcement for the State Water Resources Control Board. “I am proud to work with so many individuals in the cannabis community dedicated to regulated and environmentally conscientious cultivation. The State Water Board is committed to taking enforcement action against those who harm our precious water resources.”
“My office is committed to criminal and civil enforcement to protect the environment and public safety,” said Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley. “Environmental harms from cannabis cultivation can be severe and long-term, including exposure to dangerous pesticides, water quality degradation, and wildlife injury. Moreover, cultivators who violate the law should not have an unfair competitive advantage over lawful cultivators who expend time and resources to stay in compliance. My office will continue to collaborate with our local and state agency partners to ensure compliance with the law.”