Sonoma County cracks down on illegal cannabis grows

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With medicinal cannabis legalized in 1996, and recreational use legalized in 2016, a green rush of entrepreneurial enthusiasm took root in Sonoma County. But legalization came attached to a complement of state and county regulations, and enthusiasts are finding weed production somewhat harder than it sounds.

Since January 2017, Sonoma County Code Enforcement has received 682 complaints of cannabis production on private property. Following physical inspections of 662 of those sites, 638 – including 16 in Sonoma and Glen Ellen – are no longer cultivating cannabis, and no further complaints have been filed, according to a report by Permit Sonoma.

Twenty-four properties continue to produce cannabis in Sonoma County with an official use permit, and 20 properties have inspection dates scheduled for the near future. In addition to halting production of the 638 illegal grows, Code Enforcement mandated environmental remediation of the non-permitted sites, and billed $435,797 in related fines.

In a recent press statement, Permit Sonoma Communications Manager Maggie Fleming said, “The County delivers quick turnaround times to respond to cannabis complaints and bring these operations into compliance with County ordinances.”

To keep up with the regulated commercial cannabis market, Fleming said Permit Sonoma increased staff to catch scofflaws, dedicating two enforcement inspectors and one clerical staff person to full-time oversight of cannabis regulation. Six additional Permit Sonoma code enforcement inspectors are also available on an as-needed basis.

Existing cannabis businesses that plan to operate legally under the new ordinances were required to submit applications to the county by June 1, 2018. Since that date, Code Enforcement has responded to 21 unpermitted active grow operations, all of which were required to remove their crops within five days, and penalized up $10,000, as allowed per county ordinance.

To learn more about Sonoma County’s Code Enforcement program, go to http://sonomacounty.ca.gov.PRMD/Eng-and-Constr/Code-Enforcement/.

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