Humboldt County's Marijuana Eradication Team, working with the National Guard, is in the midst of serving multiple search warrants on unpermitted grows in a multi-day crack down on the illicit cannabis market.
The team eradicated more than 7,000 plants Aug. 5, according to Sheriff's Office Lt. Mike Fridley, who heads MET.
"We hit four search warrants," he said. "These are all unpermitted."
Fridley said they served warrants on properties in Salmon Creek and Dutyville, as well as another between Petrolia and Honeydew that had 13 greenhouses and more than 3,100 plants.
While all three properties had environmental violations, Fridley said the third was the worst and described seeing a "whole creek washed out because of a culvert they put there. It was pretty bad." Information from all three warrants is being passed on to the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office for potential prosecutions, Fridley said.
Fridley's crew served a fourth search warrant in the Conklin Creek area but came up empty, saying the plants had been moved prior to their arrival, possibly due to previous scouting overflights having frightened off the growers.
"The helicopter [probably] scared them away," he said. "They moved everything."
Earlier in the morning, passersby reported seeing what one called "the biggest crew" he'd ever seen gathering off Avenue of the Giants north of Founders Grove, readying for the raids.
"They took up the entire spot there at the Dyerville Overlook," one person said, adding that there were at least 20 unmarked pickup trucks, as well as other vehicles.
The service of search warrants continued the morning of Aug. 6, with at least one nervous grower reporting that he escaped unscathed.
The grower, who has a permitted property but requested anonymity, said he saw the MET show up on the road to his property.
"There's like 25 cop cars all the way down the dirt road as far as you can see," he said. "They were obviously in a hurry. ... We had the road blocked by a truck that we were loading [with garbage]."
After they moved the truck, the team continued to the property but when presented with permitting paperwork, the grower said they politely left.
"They were cool and moved on," he said.
The owner was particularly pleased because, though he felt he had done everything possible on his end, the state delayed in processing his paperwork and his state licenses had lapsed.
"We were in a gray area," he explained. "The state temp license had expired but the property has valid county permits. The state is slow [in processing the permits]."
He said he was delighted that the team's actions followed "what the sheriff's department has been saying." Even though it was early in the day, he said he thought he'd "crack a beer."
Gov. Gavin Newsom made national news back in February, when he announced he would be withdrawing most of the state's National Guard troops along the U.S. Mexico border and redeploying them, including some who would be sent north and tasked with eliminating unlicensed cannabis farms.
The announcement came on the heels of a new report from the California Cannabis Advisory Committee, which analyzed the state's first year of legalized recreational sales and found that "fragmented and uncoordinated" enforcement efforts were allowing the illicit market to flourish, which was undercutting the regulated market through unfair competition.
Of the roughly 10,000 cannabis grow operations the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office estimates exist within county lines, fewer than a third are permitted or in the process of attaining a permit, based on the estimates and figures from the Humboldt County Planning Department.
Editor's note: This story was compiled from several that first appeared at www.kymkemp.com and is reprinted here with permission.