San Bernardino’s Operation Hammer Strike completes the eradication of illicit cannabis

In a press release, the MET released data on the many achievements of the operation. “Since August 26, 2022, MET investigators have served 127 search warrants on illegal growing sites and arrested 103 suspects,” the MET said. “As a result of the search warrants, investigators have seized 158,906 marijuana plants, 29,897 pounds of processed marijuana, 30 firearms, 28,259 grams (62.3 pounds) of concentrated marijuana, 5,443 grams (11.9 pounds) of psilocybin mushroom and approximately US$1,643,688.00 -Dollar confiscates illegal proceeds. Investigators also cleared 1,188 greenhouses found at those locations and disabled six electrical diversions and seven tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) extraction labs.”

All investigations concluded that offenders violated the California Medical and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, as well as the San Bernardino County ordinance that prohibits commercial cannabis. The county also does not allow outdoor cannabis cultivation.

Although Operation Hammer Strike is complete, the department states that county sheriffs will continue to investigate illegal cultivation. “The Sheriff’s Gangs/Narcotics Division will continue to enforce California cannabis laws and the San Bernardino County cannabis cultivation and distribution ordinance. Individuals found guilty of violating state law and county ordinance will be subject to fines, prosecution, and property confiscation.”

Operation Hammer Strike began in September 2021, at which time an estimated 1,285 illegal crops were reported across the county. In September, the MET began a search warrant investigation in Hesperia, Pinon Hills, Phelan and Landers, which resulted in numerous arrests and seizures of cannabis plants, processed cannabis products, firearms and $30,000 in cash. That same month, another investigation led to even more arrests and product seizures. This trend continued in 2021 and 2022, with press releases describing investigations in October 2021, November 2021, January 2022, February and March.

In March, San Bernardino County promoted state legislation through Assembly Bill 2728 and Senate Bill 1426 to stop illegal cannabis cultivation. “Illegal cannabis cultivation is devastating the desert communities of San Bernardino County,” said Supervisor Curt Hagman. “The county is committed to stopping this horrific environmental damage and protecting the lives and property of our residents from lawless criminals.”

Assembly member Thurston “Smitty” Smith also explained the rationale behind the push to eliminate illegal cultivation. “The people of California made their voices heard and decided to decriminalize cannabis. I support her choice. What they didn’t ask for, however, was rampant cultivation and an illegal market that devours resources, destroys the environment and endangers our communities,” Smith said.

By May 2022, a region of San Bernardino County reported that cannabis cultivation was no longer reported in the region. “I’m sure there are more out there, but we actually don’t have any more cultivations in the Morongo Basin that have been reported to us,” Morongo Basin Sheriff Shannon Dicus told the Hi-Desert Star. San Bernardino County Supervisor Dawn Rowe commented on the quick call to action. “Typically, this county takes a long time to make changes for our residents, but that wasn’t the case. Thank you on behalf of our residents for making it a safer place to live again,” Rowe said.

Nationwide efforts to eradicate illicit cannabis cultivation have continued steadily. Back in October 2021, California attorney Rob Bonta announced that the Campaign Against Marijuana Cultivation (CAMP) had resulted in the destruction of over a million cannabis plants. “Illegal and unlicensed cultivation of marijuana is bad for our environment, bad for our economy, and bad for the health and safety of our communities,” Bonta said in a press release.

More recently, in July, agencies including the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced permission for enforcement teams to investigate illegal cultivation during the 2022 growing season.

In October, Bonta announced that CAMP would henceforth be called Eradication and Prevention of Illicit Cannabis (EPIC) and would continue to investigate illegal cultivation. “The illegal market outweighs the legal market,” Bonta said. “It’s on its head and our goal is to completely eradicate the illicit market.”

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