Local law enforcement announced Monday that it will be working with federal agencies to crack down on large-scale medical marijuana grows, primarily on agricultural land.
“We’re going to start (pushing for) federal charges against people because of the state’s reluctance to file cases,” said Tom MacKenzie, spokesman for the Merced County Sheriff’s Department. “We’re notifying people that there’s going to be law enforcement action.”
The Sheriff’s Department is sending out letters and emails telling medical marijuana growers they could be subject to criminal charges and seizure of property, Joshua Emerson Smith reports in the Merced Sun-Star.
The move follows several public announcements by U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner that federal and local law enforcement officers in the Central Valley will collaborate in shutting down large marijuana operations.
“We are working with sheriffs in at least six counties (including Merced) to target marijuana grows on agricultural lands,” said Wagner, the region’s top federal prosecutor. “Large grows, regardless of whether they’re called medical or not, are in violation of federal law.”
While large outdoor marijuana grows — often associated with guns, violence and environmental destruction — tend to garner little public support, cannabis advocates have voiced concern about this most recent campaign.
“If we actually see local law enforcement working hand in hand sending out teams of deputies with federal agencies, that’s new,” said Nate Bradley, a former California police officer and spokesman for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “If they actually start going after legitimate co-ops, you’ll see protest like you’ve never seen before. They’re going to get one of the biggest states’ rights battles.”
However, it’s not clear yet exactly who law enforcement will be going after.
The notice is for anyone growing marijuana other than for personal use, MacKenzie said. “If someone has cancer and they’re growing three plants, then obviously that’s not who this is intended for. This is more for people who are taking advantage of the gray area where the state law falls under right now.”
After several years of federal efforts to curb pot farming in the Sierra Nevada foothills, federal officials report an increase in marijuana farming on agricultural land on the Valley floor.
“In some case we’re going to be seizing and forfeiting land on which marijuana is grown,” Wagner said. “We’re not interested in prosecuting everyone. We’re interested in people who are making significant money from trafficking a controlled substance.”
However, California law enforcement would be wise to tread lightly in this situation, said Dale Gieringer, director of the California branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “If the sheriff doesn’t respect property rights, that’s a pretty big deal. California law doesn’t allow forfeiture for marijuana cultivation even if it’s not medical. If the sheriff wants to do this, he could incur a lawsuit.”
Law enforcement officials said they hope their warnings deter many people from continuing to grow in the area, but the U.S. Attorneys Offices expect to be prosecuting multiple cases by the end of the summer.