Deputies in Riverside County, California received a tip from an unlikely source leading them to a black market marijuana farm where they found nearly 3,000 cannabis plants growing. The tip came from the Cannabis Enforcement Unit of the California State Water Resources Control Board.
This unit was created four years ago to investigate marijuana growers found in Northern California that were diverting or polluting waterways. The unit has since expanded to Southern California in the last year in an effort to minimize damages done by cannabis cultivation on the water supply and the quality of the water. The unit has thus far filed reports on 20 ongoing criminal cases against marijuana farmers since the Southern California division launched in 2017.
Unregulated marijuana farms have been harming the waterways of California for decades. Pesticides that are banned in the United States due to their being harmful for human consumption often end up in nearby water sources. Not only are these harmful pesticides getting into the water, but raw sewage left by workers without bathrooms winds up in the streams as well. When the unit launched in 2014, they partnered with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to investigate the damage from the farms hidden in rural areas of various counties.
The California Water Boards also launched a new program for water quality permits. Every commercial cannabis cultivator that wishes to obtain annual licenses must purchase a permit costing anywhere from $600 to $8,000 that would show they comply with the regulations to protect the water supply.
Unlike in Northern California where the black market farmers operate outdoor grow operations, black market grows in Southern California operate indoors. These inside operations are more likely to discharge their dangerous chemicals into the nearby water supply.
The strain of all the black market grow operations is a burden on local departments as they struggle to have enough manpower to handle it.