It would appear Humboldt County remains a cannabis trendsetter.
Leafly is reporting that Humboldt County's controversial strategy of dealing with illicit grow operations through civil code enforcement abatement notices and fines of up to $10,000 per day, per violation has caught other jurisdictions' attention. A similar program is already in place in Sonoma County, according to the Leafly article, and another is ready to go live this summer in Mendocino County as other jurisdictions mull taking a similar approach. Sacramento, meanwhile, passed a law July 1 to impose civil fines of up to $30,000 per day on folks operating unlicensed dispensaries.
According to the article, the Humboldt County Planning and Building Department sent out 597 cannabis-related abatement notices in 2018 and 148 so far this year. Those on the receiving end of the notices have 10 days to remove their plants and correct the code violation before they face the daily fines, which can run for up to 90 days to a tab of $900,000. Once the number hits that threshold, the county begins taking collection action, which could include property liens.
The article notes the county has assessed $3.28 million in cannabis abatement fines since launching the program but didn't specify how much had actually been collected. It also has liens on five properties, according to Leafly.
While county officials and those watching from other jurisdictions feel the approach is effective, it's far from universally popular. Many in the cannabis industry have charged that the county began by sending abatement notices to people who had applied for county permits but dropped out of the process, many due to high compliance costs. Others say the county just seems to be going after whoever it can happen to find with unpermitted grows through satellite imagery rather than looking to first abate the worst of the worst.
Local reporter and Journal contributor Kym Kemp told Leafly that neighbors with fruit or vegetable gardens have received abatement notices. Kemp has, too, noting that the water board sent a notice after taking aerial photos of a green house she uses to grow vegetables in the winter.
"I don't grasp why that would be the first place you would start when there's a neighbor a quarter mile down the road who leveled a mountain," she told the news site.
There have been other reports of mistaken abatement notices, too. The Times-Standard reported last month that the county's satellite mapping system had also triggered abatement notices for two Willow Creek vegetable farms, Trinity River Farm and Neukom Family Farms, causing stress and embarrassment for their owners.
It appears every war on illegal weed — whether criminal or civil — will have some collateral damage.
You've probably heard by now that the U.S. National Guard is working with local law enforcement throughout Northern California on cannabis eradication operations. What you may not have heard is that the Guard's elite 95th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team sometimes rolls out with chemically-resistant gloves and full-face respirators.
An absolutely alarming article posted to www.playboy.com earlier this month (hey, it was sent to me by a friend who just reads it for the articles), followed the elite team and a pair of local biologists — Mourad Gabriel and Greta Wengert of the Integral Ecology Research Center in Blue Lake — to clean up large-scale trespass grows that are the suspected work of foreign drug cartels.
While Gabriel and Wengert have long warned of the dangers that anticoagulant rodenticides used at grow sites can pose to wildlife, it appears some growers have doubled down, having found something even more awful than the stuff that makes cute little Pacific fishers bleed out from the inside.
The article details how some growers have begun using Carbofuran, a pesticide so strong that a quarter of a teaspoon of the stuff could kill a 600-pound lion, according to Gabriel. And they're frequently finding bottles of the stuff, which it seems has become popular because it's incredibly potent and effective in killing both pests and rodents, and because law enforcement is terrified of the stuff. And that's not without reason, according to the article, which notes that a six-member eradication team had to be hospitalized last year near El Dorado National Forest after being exposed to the poison and a U.S. Forest Service employee went temporarily blind after being exposed while bagging up trash at a grow site.
Worse yet, this stuff stays in the soil for years, according to Gabriel.
And perhaps the scariest statistic in the entire story: In 2012, Gabriel and Wengert's crews reported finding Carbofuran at 15 percent of the grows they visited. Last year, it was closer to 85 percent.
Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.