CA’s use of National Guard to target illegal marijuana grows fuels questions, concerns over potential MJ industry fallout

Legal marijuana companies are cautiously welcoming California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement that 150 National Guard troops will deploy to Northern California to “go after illegal cannabis farms,” but the news also is kindling fears in some industry circles of a renewed, government-led drug war.

Many legal marijuana companies have long argued that illicit operators pose a major threat to their bottom line – and a widespread law enforcement conundrum for the state at large.

However, some of California’s legal cannabis companies remain unclear about how the National Guard effort will proceed, and the state has yet to offer clear-cut answers.

  • Parallels drawn to the decades-old Campaign Against Marijuana Planting program (CAMP) have some worried about a “drug war 2.0” because in years past, CAMP arguably victimized many of the same MJ farmers who are now legal and licensed.
  • Cannabis companies also are looking for clarity from the state about how the deployment will be managed to ensure it doesn’t unintentionally interfere with legal marijuana businesses.
  • It’s also unclear whether the deployment may lead to raids on some farms that may be out of compliance with state industry rules but are still transitioning and trying to become part of the legal market.

Memories of CAMP, in particular, are triggering alarms.

“CAMP … sends shivers up my spine just hearing it,” said John Brower, a cannabis industry consultant in Trinity County, which comprises the Emerald Triangle along with Humboldt and Mendocino counties.

Scars left by CAMP

National Guard troops are already involved in at least two anti-narcotics efforts: CAMP, as well as the National Guard’s Counterdrug Task Force (CDTF).

CAMP is a joint program involving 10 state and federal agencies, including the California National Guard. It’s separate from the CDTF.

While the order that Newsom signed last week bolstered Guard personnel for the CDTF, Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal called the move a “carryover of the ‘CAMP’ program.”

The state attorney general’s office announced 52 arrests last October made via CAMP in connection with illegal marijuana grows across California.

Honsal’s comments tying the new National Guard effort to CAMP raised eyebrows in the legal Northern California MJ farming community.

Growers there support enforcement against violent gangs and “trespass grows” on public lands – but the reference carries mental scars from years of “abusive” raids by CAMP agents.

“Abusive” is a word multiple sources used to describe CAMP’s heyday from 1983 to the early 2000s.

“The abuses of the CAMP program have left some long-lasting wounds in our community, and those wounds aren’t all healed,” Brower said.

The mission is unclear

Asked to clarify the new CDTF mission’s scope, Newsom’s press office referred Marijuana Business Daily to the initial news release, dated Feb. 11.

Under Newsom’s order, troops assigned to the CDTF would focus on combating “transnational crime organizations engaged in the illegal trafficking of firearms and narcotics.”

The order also noted that National Guard members assisted in the seizure of over 71,000 pounds of “illegal cannabis” in 2018.

The governor’s office didn’t immediately answer follow-up questions – such as whether the CDTF would possibly raid unlicensed grows on private lands or only illegal “trespass grows” on public lands.

The 150 new troops assigned to the new mission represent a roughly 75% increase in personnel for the CDTF, which currently has “200-plus” soldiers and airmen, according to Lt. Col. Jonathan Shiroma, the California National Guard’s chief of media relations.

Regarding whether the CDTF would focus on illegal cannabis grows on both public and private lands, Shiroma wrote in an email: “This part of the mission is still being sorted out, whether the new deployment will be focused on eradicating ‘trespass grows’ on public lands or if it will also possibly be raiding unlicensed grows on private lands.” (To read more on what Shiroma shared with MJBizDaily about the mission, click here.)

That has left industry stakeholders wondering how the National Guard redeployment will unfold.

“I don’t think it’s clear to most people,” said Lindsay Robinson, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association. “There’s a lot of ambiguity. I don’t have that information, either.

“That’s certainly something we will be reaching out to the governor’s office to inquire about.”

Should mom-and-pops aiming to join the legal market be worried?

“We know that Gov. Newsom is supportive of the legal industry,” Robinson said. “So I’d be hard-pressed to believe that they will be going after small growers up there, but I don’t know. Our hope is that, if it is cartels and illegal trespass grows on public lands (targeted by the National Guard), that it in no way impacts the legal industry.

“It would be great to have more clarity on what their plan is, but it could be that they haven’t articulated it quite themselves.”

State Assembly member Rob Bonta, an Oakland Democrat and marijuana industry ally, also is unclear about the details of the redeployment.

But he doubts mom-and-pop farms trying to join the legal market have anything to fear.

“I think the details are still to come,” Bonta said. “I certainly hope it’s nothing like what happened before, with the CAMP enforcement and hardcore tactics. … That’s going to be for the (California) DOJ and the governor to decide, but knowing them, I don’t think that’s their intent.”

California’s legal MJ industry generally agrees that “trespass grows” and the resulting environmental harm from the perpetrators’ use of harmful chemicals and growing methods should not be tolerated.

And there’s broader agreement, Robinson and others said, that unlicensed MJ businesses that undercut the legal market should be targeted.

But legal farmers want assurances they’re not going to be reliving the failed drug war of yesteryear.

“We applaud Gov. Newsom’s allocating of resources to clean up these large illegal grows on public lands, and we think there needs to be a clear line of separation, between protecting our watershed and invading private property,” Brower said.

“If the National Guard is going to jump back in, they have to be managed in a way that’s not stepping on the necks of these communities and citizens that have tried to do things right.”

Bonta added, “Certainly, nobody wants to go backward. But we can’t have no enforcement. And we’re trying to create some carrots to move into the legal cannabis marketplace, but there are going to have to be some sticks, too.”

John Schroyer can be reached at johns@mjbizdaily.com

18 comments on “CA’s use of National Guard to target illegal marijuana grows fuels questions, concerns over potential MJ industry fallout
  1. Pat on

    Those carrots and sticks that Bonta is referring to are already built into the law. The law has to change ( which Bonta and his buddies would have done by now ), dramatically and quickly to realize Bonta’s rhetoric. Bonta had a hand in putting the law together; if not spearheading it. Bonta’s a politician ( like Newsom ) but they’re both businessmen too. And what they’re doing here is simply attempting to placate those businesses that got licensed. It’s not going to work.

    Based on the info and the numbers of “enforcer’s” being allocated…This plan will fail in every which way. It is not going to be enough to relieve any significant pressure off of whatever the concern is over black market competition. BTW, have there been any randomized studies performed to determine what kind of impact the black market is having on licensee prices, availability, purity, etc? I don’t think so. So, all of this is largely politically motivated. Politically for two major reasons: 1 ) To attempt to make the licensee’s happy that they’re getting some kind of justification/relief for the outrageous entry requirements and ongoing tax and fee gouging that’s feeding the gov. ( troughs ) coffers. 2 ) And more importantly, as an outraged response by the state of ca. gov.( Newsom, the legislature and the regulators ) that those that decide(d) not to comply with the b.s. law and pay all that money AND to be controlled in the manner that current licensee’s are.

    This whole scheme parallels Trumps border wall attempt. Newsom and Bonta are trying to placate their ( very minute ) base. At the expense of everyone else. Just to try to make a baseless point.

    If those national guard troops are being sent in to take on those growers/processors on federal and state lands…That would be a very welcome and judicious use of resources. But, it’s not going to likely give the licensee’s the perceived relief that they’re seeking. Why? Most of that product is likely going out of the state. What about the cheap product coming in to ca. from bordering states?? If the troops turn on those suspected of being unlicensed and doing business in the state; that would likely be ok as well, depending on how its executed. However, it’s going to take an exponential number of troops than what are currently being allotted to engage in this campaign. But this won’t happen either. So what one is left with, is an exercise in futility. Just like Trump’s border wall. It’s all being done for appearances only. And the chances of screwing this up and pissing off a lot of people, is great. In the end, it’s the licensee’s that will start ( if they haven’t already ) seeing, just how much of “a ride” that their own gov. has taken them on.

    Reply
    • Ma Dang on

      I think that this redeployment of guardsman maybe to remove them from the border to confront and annoy Trump and the ‘excuse’ given is to go after the bad actors that are Trumps concern and deal with public land misuse and habitat destruction while sweeping the pine needles up (only the Guard can prevent forest fires).
      I agree that the licensing structure and municipal fees are out of line with other ‘sin’ tax rates and is another reason for the continued black market.
      I also see cannabis farms in the emerald triangle selling up to $1.5 million that i would have considered mom-pop a couple of years ago. There are additional reasons beyond fees why some can’t join the legal market (or don’t want to), not being able to prevent habitat destruction from rain runoff or N effluent entering sensitive water courses or withdrawing too much seasonally or Land Use issues (road building, utilities, soil structure and slope, zoning) or the location does not permit cannabis businesses.
      Where the Guard needs to be, is on the Cali state borders checking vehicles so oregon’s excess pot doesn’t enter and so Cali’s black market doesn’t go out. That would be a start, but let’s face it, the industry experts are predicting a major extinction event before 2020, so this may just be the start of sorting things out.
      I’ll just grow my own medicine and and have the compassion to give it to those who can’t.
      p.s. never forget the government’s real purpose for being is to pick winners and losers using the golden rule (they who have the gold rule).

      Reply
  2. Shawn Albright on

    Why isn’t Newsom creating agencies to raid the stores? Cities don’t know what to do and continue blame shifting the state. Talk opening the doors to city official corruptions. … BCC is in shambles. The only ones that are profiting are city officials turning the other cheek and black market.

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  3. Phil on

    This has been California’s mission for years. Bleed the grows dry while waiting for mega companies to move in. I never knew a tax I didn’t like. This is the liberal mind. Never was there a concern for the end user. This will only drive the market underground once more. California looks at the market as a drug deal and they want all the money.

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    • Pat on

      The state of ca. doesn’t want everyone else competing with their cartels…. Bottom line. And they’ll use your tax dollars to send out the big guns after you if you do.

      Reply
  4. mike on

    well well just another excuse for govs to arm more brown shirts. our police are already fully armed across the country by homeland security to protect us, look how quickly they closed down boston, so the more troops they add they need excuses to use. instead of simply legalizing pot as the citizens voted, they are now going to protect us with more raids instead of putting efforts into placing state licensed dispensaries and safe grow sites in all counties and cities of a certain size. it is still gov efforts to earn their campaign contributions by trying to eliminate as much competition before big business comes in to save the industry. remember ryan got his 500k for pushing through the trump tax bill that is costing us thousands in more tax this year. nuttin new here either.

    Reply
  5. William Fowler on

    In Nevada they did the same thing so that the alcohol industry could come and and have the foothold of the entire state through the resulting distribution rights given them. The first move by enforcement in Nevada was to shut down all small growers and delivery businesses, so that the alcohol industry would have a monopoly on the industry. Looks like California is doing the same to all the big business that wants control of the cannabis in California….its just corrupt politics. When we Californians wake up to the corrupt Democratic party running the state??

    Reply
    • Pat on

      The existing black market Californian’s have been paying attention… And, it’s becoming more and more the “compassionate” ( actor ) one in comparison to the state’s scheme.

      Reply
  6. The Mad Yooper on

    As you can see by my handle I am a Yooper. We have our own problems coming from Lansing. Michigan is well known for muddy law were cannabis is concerned. Having said that: I read the articles and the comments and it is frightening to imagine what will come down the pipe at us.
    California and it’s cannabis industry are a lot farther down the road than we are.
    You need to crawl before you can walk .
    The several states cannabis industries need to organise. Then take these organisations to the federal level.
    Otherwise we will be trampled under foot.
    I don’t know the California election cycle. Start with the next election. Take them 1 at a time. You have to have some people in the industry ready willing and able to run.
    Otherwise it is a fait accompli.
    It started in California in the sixties and it hasn’t been completed yet. Why Not?

    Reply
  7. Patricia on

    Wow, that was fast. It only took 14-months to bring back the jack-booted brown shirts. It just goes to show that the neo-liberals are as fascistic as the neo-cons.

    A few decades ago, I was taking my usual morning walk with my dogs in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was a beautiful mid-spring morning. The sky filled with shrieking helicopters. When I rounded a bend in the trail, I encountered 4-5 huge SUVs and a bunch of scurrying brown shirts who were astonishingly well armed.

    I whistled the dogs to heel and slipped through the forest to get home. On my way, I ran into a neighbor who was out for his morning walk. He was so excited, it looked like he was about to burst. He told me that he had seen someone’s backpack the day before that was full of marijuana, so he had called the cops.

    I laughed and told him that if there was any cannabis out there, it wouldn’t be harvested for months. Then, I asked him what color the backpack was. He said it was red. I laughed. I had been out harvesting a few baby mugwort plants the day before. It was my backpack that had triggered the raid.

    I still wonder about that. How could a huge team of supposed “experts” have decided it was a good use of our tax dollars to try to run down a harvest-ready outdoor grow in March? Who are these people? Why, pray tell, are they STILL on the public dole? Aren’t there enough real problems in California to suck up our tax dollars?

    Cannabis is NOT a problem. It’s use is NOT a “sin.” We, the people need to demand Truth and Reconciliation, not industrialization for cannabis and the good people who have had to live underground for decades while they tended the sick and dying in their communities. Shame on you Mr. Newsom. Shame on the industrialists who want to turn cannabis into a GMO crop in the Klammoth River Valley. Cannabis is a bio-accumulator. To the extent that they’re successful, cannabis will become the poison they’ve been saying it was. We’ll be dropping like flies from RoundUp poisoning in no time.

    This is bad mojo that needs screams for a concerted push back from us. It’s our government. We need to bring it to heel, now.

    Reply
  8. Thisisajoke on

    When your forced to pay someone a percentage of your income too keep your business running its known as extortion, or strong arming. You cant send your hitman in on people who own their land and diddnt pay the mafia the percentage. The product is legal. Californias politics are gross

    Reply
  9. Dean on

    Of course, Gavin is attempting to eliminate the competition through illegal military force. This proves he’s a corrupt corporatist elitist.

    Reply
  10. Dragon on

    This IS A DRUG WAR..what the hell you talking about..if there raiding crops with National Guard then THAT IS A DRUG WAR. If ANY grower anywhere at anytime let’s The Guard raid them then I guess they deserve it. Stand together farmers. There version of Legal Cannabis is not Legal Cannabis. Out with the Law and Out with ALL Industry Cannabis. It is NO ONES BUSINESS IF THE NEXT PERSON GROWS CANNABIS.. Humboldt has been doing just fine in the Cannabis world LOOOONG Before medical and Loooong before “Supposedly” “Legal” Cannabis.

    Reply
  11. Bottomline on

    The truth is that most legal marijuana is being sold on the black market out of state. The legal producers are having a license to steal because they are allowed to grow thousands of pounds that hit the black market instead of one hundred like they did when it was for medicine.

    Reply

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