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Nearly $63 Million In Illegally Grown Marijuana Seized In The First Month of Operation Hammer Strike

PHOTO: SBC Sheriff's Department

Sheriff's Department MET Teams are working hard to eradicate the county of illegal marijuana grows.

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Over 77,000 illegal marijuana plants and 18,000 pounds of processed marijuana have been seized in the first month of Operation Hammer Strike–San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s large-scale operation to eradicate illegal cannabis grows throughout our County.

Outdoor marijuana cultivation is illegal in all unincorporated communities and almost every city in San Bernardino County. However, due mainly to the decriminalization of cannabis cultivation at the state level, county officials are reporting that over 1,000 illegal cannabis grows throughout the County, with some saying the number is closer to 2,000.

In the past month of Operation Hammer Strike, Sheriff’s Department Marijuana Enforcement Teams and deputies from various stations across the County have seized over 77,000 plants and 18,668 pounds of processed marijuana with an estimated wholesale price of just over $63 Million. There have been 391 greenhouses eradicated in 91 different locations and 117 suspects arrested. Three electrical bypasses have been mitigated, 23 handguns have been confiscated, and nearly $100k in cash seized.

The Sheriff’s Department Marijuana Enforcement Teams continue to push forward in their mission to eradicate illegal marijuana grows from the County. However, penalties for illegally growing marijuana are lax, making it difficult for law enforcement to keep the illegal grows from coming back. In 2016 California voters passed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, commonly known as Proposition 64, which reduced the penalty for marijuana cultivation from a felony to a misdemeanor. Prior to August, 2021 suspects arrested due of illegal marijuana cultivation faced no more than a six-month jail sentence or a fine of no more than $500, or both.

In August 2021, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that significantly increased the penalties for illegal grows within the County. Per the ordinance: Anyone convicted of a misdemeanor for cannabis cultivations of up to 200 plants faces a fine of up to $1,000 for a first conviction; for a second conviction, the penalty rises to $1,500, and for the third conviction, the fine goes up to $3,000. For anyone convicted of a misdemeanor for commercial cannabis activity related to the operation of a dispensary or delivery, manufacturing, transportation, distribution, or cultivation where the number of cannabis plants is greater than 200 faces a fine of up to $3,000 for the first conviction, $6,000 for the second and $10,000 for the third conviction.

Additionally, for a property where commercial cannabis activity occurs with 200 or fewer plants, the property owner faces a fine of $1,000 for the first citation, $1,500 for the second citation, and $3,000 for the third citation. A property owner where commercial cannabis activity is occurring with more than 200 plants or the activity involves the operation of a dispensary, or delivery, manufacturing, transportation, or distribution faces a fine of $3,000 for the first citation, $6,000 for the second citation, and $10,00 for the third citation. Penalties can also be piled on top of each other daily, which means property owners could very quickly see hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines accrue.

In week four of the operation, September 20, 2021, through September 24, 2021, investigators from the Sheriff’s Department’s Marijuana Enforcement Team served 24 search warrants throughout the County, with 33 suspects arrested. The suspects were cited or booked on charges of Cultivation of Cannabis, over six plants, and Possession for Sales of Marijuana.

Investigators seized 16,180 marijuana plants, 5,905 pounds of processed marijuana, seven handguns, and $41,000 in cash. A total of 101 greenhouses were eradicated, and one electrical bypass was mitigated. One of the handguns was also found to have the serial number removed.

Warrants were served at 7 locations in Lucerne Valley, six sites in Wonder Valley, three areas in Phelan, 1 location in Apple Valley, 4 locations in Newberry Springs, and 3 locations in Pinon Hills. Phelan locations included the 10600 block of Goss Road, 10700 block of Sunset Road, and a parcel with no address. Pinon Hills locations included the 800 block of Pomona Road, the 14500 block of Oasis Road, and one parcel with no address.

The suspects’ places of residence included Lucern Valley, Oklahoma, Texas, Mexico, Las Vegas, Wonder Valley, Victorville, Houston, Anaheim, Moreno Valley, Perris, and Pinon Hills.

Property owners who are growing marijuana or are aware their tenants are growing marijuana on their properties violate the state law and local ordinances; they may also be subject to civil or criminal sanctions. Property owners are encouraged to contact their local law enforcement or code compliance agency to confirm if cultivating cannabis is prohibited or allowed under specific regulations.

To report possible illegal marijuana grows or activities, call the CalCannabis tip line at 1-833-933-3847 (1-833-WEED-TIP) and the We-Tip Hotline at 1-800-782-7463 (1-800-78-CRIME) or leave information at www.wetip.com.

Additionally, call the Sheriff’s Gangs/Narcotics Division at 1-909-387-8400 or email NARC-MET@sbcsd.org and let the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors know by emailing the San Bernardino County Clerk of the Board at COB@sbcounty.gov. Residents can also speak to the supervisors during their board meetings. This can be done in person or virtually at one of the county’s several government centers. Visit sbcounty.gov/main/pages/BOS for more information.

Residents can also report suspected violations to Code Enforcement via their website at sbcountylus.force.com/lus/servicetypes.

Report any suspicious water activity to the Phelan Pinon Hills Community Services District at 760-868-1212 or visit www.pphcsd.org for more information. Or to the Sheep Creek Water Company at 760-868-3755

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