Can legalization stomp out the black market?
Illegal pot farms have been sprouting up across California in anticipation of legalization next year, especially in cash-strapped counties.
In Calaveras County alone, Sheriff Rick DiBasilio estimates more than 1,000 illegal farms are growing in the shadows of the large county. That’s a substantial number when you consider the population is only around 44,000 people.
“I could do this every day if I had the personnel,” DiBasilio said.
The sheriff receives an estimated $10 million in fees and taxes paid for by legal farmers that can fund a crackdown on illegal growers. Legal farmers argue the black market competition has caused violent crimes and a recent homicide.
The county had fields burnt by a large wildfire in 2015, which destroyed more than 500 homes. Despite this, pot growers found the opportunity to grow weed on the newly barren land. Calaveras officials hope to collect tax from these growers to revive the county.
Besides Calaveras, California Growers Association estimated about 3,500 farmers in Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties have already applied for local permits.
Bill McManus, head of an organization seeking to ban marijuana, described the environmental impact as “atrocious,” with sounds of generators, water trucks, pot odor and illegal pesticides causing harm. However, pot farmers who believe they are helping local economy and creating good job opportunities have threatened to sue officials.