When more than 57 percent of California voters approved Proposition 64 in 2016 to legalize recreational marijuana, it appeared to be a promising initiative.
After all, for decades anyone who wanted to get high could find a friend who knew a friend and could do so. But there was a tinge of guilt. Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry wrote a column long ago about friends who were partaking, as he put it, and one who questioned why they were doing so.
They were supporting organized crime and drug cartels, he said. Bad people were exploiting a habit that starts with teenagers, he added, taking another hit.
They all agreed to drink gin instead.
The passage of the “Adult Use of Marijuana Act” set 21 as the legal age to smoke dope. It allowed Californians to grow up to six pot plants on their property, created legal commercial cultivation and promised increased tax revenue for cities willing to allow pot shops within their borders.
Best yet, it would end the practice of buying marijuana from criminals. A new generation of legal pot growers to boost the economy.
It didn’t work out that way.
The state expected 6,000 legal cultivation sites by now, according to the Los Angeles Times, but has issued only, 1,086 licenses for delivery and retail firms. More than 80 percent of California cannabis companies have provisional licenses.
Meanwhile, illegal cultivation in the Mojave Desert is exploding. U.S. Rep. Jay Obernolte reports that illegal marijuana operations in his 8th Congressional District have increased 300 percent since 2019.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department has detected more than 1,000 illegal pot farms in the desert. They’re spread out over 50,000 square miles of mostly flat land. You could drive for miles and never spot one. Obernolte did the smart thing by taking a flight with outgoing Sheriff John McMahon. And he took pictures, which we share in today’s edition.
Obernolte sent a letter urging U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to intervene. Is this a federal problem? You bet. If you’ve been following our coverage, you know that many of the operators are not from this country and many are heavily armed.
It also remains a huge California problem. You may not recall the worst part of Proposition 64: It made the sale of illegally grown marijuana a misdemeanor. It’s not even a felony!
The operators of these despicable operations are stealing water, harming the environment, scaring their neighbors, many of who have retired to enjoy the remote desert.
That didn’t turn out so well either.
California and the U.S. Department of Justice should join local jurisdictions in the fight against illegal marijuana farms. And the state Legislature should prepare a ballot measure to make the sale of illegally produced pot a felony once again.