ALERT: There is a new source of destruction and degradation in the California Desert, illegal cannabis growing. The damage is severe and widespread. Here we provide a synopsis of the issue and recordings of the special session from the 2023 DTC symposium. We hope you will support efforts by California State Treasurer Ma and others to remedy the situation.

Cannabis Session, Desert Tortoise Council symposium, February 23, 2023
Session 9. Cannabis Invasion: What We Need to Know and Do About It

  • 10:15 a.m. / 01:11 – Introduction to the Session and Moderator: Heidi Brannon Solutions Strategies
  • 10:20 a.m. / 09:10 – Tiffany Devitt, Director Regulatory Affairs March and Ash/CannaCraft
  • 10:35 a.m. / 22:26 – Deputy Kyle Schuler San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Gangs/Narcotic Division, Marijuana Enforcement
  • 10:50 a.m. / 29:10 – Eric Weiss, Senior Environmental Scientist California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Habitat Conservation-Cannabis
  • 11:05 a.m. / 54:30 – Breton Peace, Attorney Peace & Shea LLP
  • 11:20 a.m. / 1:12:50 – The Honorable Fiona Ma, Treasurer State of California
  • 11:35 a.m. / 1:22:50 – Panel: Questions and Discussion

Cannabis Panel

In 2016, Californians passed Proposition 64, Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which:

  • Legalized personal use and cultivation of marijuana for adults 21 years of age or older.
  • Reduced criminal penalties in the state from felonies to misdemeanors and some misdemeanors to infractions.
  • Authorized resentencing or dismissal of prior, eligible marijuana-related convictions.
  • Included provisions to regulate, license, and tax legalized use to establish a legal market.

When Prop 64 passed, it was thought that the establishment of a legal market for weed would hamstring the illegal market in the state. However, its implementation has had the opposite effect and the illegal market has flourished while the legal market has floundered. High operational and regulatory costs within the legal market have made it difficult for legal growers and cannabis businesses to operate successfully and compete with the illegal market.

After the passage of Prop 64, illegal grow operations popped up nearly overnight across the state. California’s Mojave Desert, with its abundant sunshine, vast open spaces, and cheap land, has proven itself as an ideal location to grow weed. Illegal cannabis grows have huge environmental, community, and social consequences.

Environmental Impacts: loss of habitat, take of listed and special status species, contamination of water and soils with banned chemicals (insecticides, herbicides, etc.), illegal dumping of waste and trash, destruction of streambeds, increased numbers of feral dogs.

Community Impacts: Decreased safety and security, theft of water and property, increased blight.

Social Impacts: Human trafficking of workers, threats of violence, unpaid labor, squalid living conditions onsite.

Decriminalization of cultivation and other cannabis related offenses under Prop 64 was intended to provide relief to communities that were disproportionally criminalized by the “War on Drugs”. However, it has made eradicating illegal grows and removing illegally grown weed from the market difficult. Work is needed at the state level to ensure that our environment and communities are not at risk while allowing the legal market to thrive.

The Desert Tortoise Council hosted a special session at the 48th Annual Desert Tortoise Symposium and held a first of its kind panel by bringing together industry experts, law enforcement, regulatory specialists, and the California State Treasurer to discuss the challenges related to legalizing cannabis in California. Panel members discussed the implementation of Prop 64, efforts made by the San Bernardino County Sheriff Department to combat illegal grows, CDFW’s environmental permit review process and enforcement efforts, reasons why the illegal market has overtaken the legal market, and how California State Treasurer Ma is working to legitimize banking for the state’s marijuana industry in a federal banking landscape where marijuana remains illegal.