A California assembly member is proposing a new law that will recriminalize the growing of marijuana. The bill seeks to treat unlicensed cannabis cultivation of more than six plants as a felony. This is pushing back on the state’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act that was passed in 2016. The legislation removed all weed-related felonies and stipulated that offenders could only go to prison if they were caught selling to minors.
The Assembly Bill 1725 by Rep. Thurston Smith (R-Apple Valley) is seeking to undo that act by increasing the penalties for unlicensed marijuana cultivation from a misdemeanor to a felony offense. Misdemeanors tend to receive a $1,000 fine with up to one year in jail with first-time violators receiving a fine. As a felony, this would mean violators would receive at least 16 months to three years in jail. For the bill to pass, it will require a two-thirds majority in a Democrat-dominated legislature.
The assembly member said in a news release that the bill would fight off illicit farmers who have been “operating with impunity.” He said that this was as a result of Sacramento lawmakers being “soft on crime” and thus causing an increase in unlicensed grows.
The bill has received criticism with an East Bay Express article arguing that despite the war on drugs ending in 2016 and realizing that criminal enforcement does not reduce the market share of illicit grows, some legislators are pretending not to understand. The publication goes on to note that San Bernardino has put a ban in place that prohibits any commercial activity on marijuana. As a result, unlicensed grows have popped up for years because they generate money, and the article states that “it’s worth the risk of criminal prosecution.”
The assembly member’s district contains a track of desert land whose climatic and soil conditions provide an ideal state for the cultivation of cannabis. Smith has been in favor of police raids including one that led to 15 arrests. One report for the San Bernardino County Board revealed that the conditions in the desert resulted in 1,080 illicit farms, out of which 300 were busted in 2021. In August, Shannon Dicus, a county sheriff, informed the board that the pot farms posed a threat to the quality of life in the area, citing that they have created environmental harms through the misuse of insecticides.
East Bay Express argues that government officials should allow cannabis farms to operate legally because criminal enforcement does not reduce the number of illegal cultivation sites. A Forbes report states the assembly member’s efforts “represent a growing discontent” with the way implementation of laws around marijuana legalization has played out. The problem is that the laws can only be fixed through reform policies at the state and federal level, a move that would address many of the regulatory headaches which the industry, including companies such as American Cannabis Partners, currently faces.
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