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Proposed state law would toughen illegal cannabis farming penalties

A San Bernardino County Sheriff Deputy standing inside a marijuana greenhouse.
San Bernardino County Sheriff
A San Bernardino County Sheriff Deputy standing inside a marijuana greenhouse.

KVCR’s Jonathan Linden spoke with republican state assemblymember Thurston 'Smitty' Smith about his bill, AB-2728, which looks to change the penalty structure for individuals who break cannabis growing and distribution laws.

This is a transcript of the first five minutes of the conversation between KVCR's Jonathan Linden and California assemblymember Smitty Smith.

Jonathan Linden: You're listening to 91.9 KVCR news, and I'm Jonathan Linden. Republican Thurston "Smitty" Smith represents California's 33rd assembly district, which includes the communities of Lake Arrowhead, Victorville, Barstow, and Needles. Just last month, he introduced Assembly Bill 2728, which he's titling ‘cannabis civil fines,’ the bill would create a gradation in the civil penalty structure for unlicensed cannabis activity. To get started, assemblymember, can you tell listeners more about this bill, AB 2728, and what some of your motivations were to write it.

Smitty Smith: Pretty much what I'm trying to do is add penalties to the illegal marijuana groves. When voters supported prop 64, they said (they were going to be okay with legal marijuana groves. For illegal groves, individuals they get fined $500.) And (if law enforcement catches you this week, catches you next month, and catches you three months from now, it'll be $500 each time.) But the biggest thing is the penalties that they are assessing right now are a drop in the bucket to the illegal marijuana groves. These guys are making millions and hundreds of millions of dollars, but what we're trying to do is get the penalties increased. So, this time, you get a fine of $500 per plant, and you say if you got 1,000 plants, you can do the math, add that up. And if we come back a second time, in another month or three months, it goes to $2,500 a plant for the size and how many plants are in the location. So progressively, adding penalties higher and higher until we finally put you out of business or make it difficult, so you won't be in the illegal growing pot business.

Portrait of California assemblymember Thurston 'Smitty' Smith.
Office of Thurston 'Smitty' Smith
Portrait of California assemblymember Thurston 'Smitty' Smith.

Jonathan Linden: What is the highest fine that an individual could receive?

Smitty Smith: $30,000

Jonathan Linden: And so, your district is pretty big, it's all of eastern San Bernardino County and all the desert region and so I presume you've heard a lot from your residents. Can you tell me what constituents have been saying to you about this issue?

Smitty Smith: All of them are really crying out for some help right now. (They have illegal groves right next to the residential home that are just a small distance away from the high school in Lucerne Valley.) Another big problem is the off-roaders that go out there to try to enjoy the weekend with their families, and they're being accosted as they're going through powerline road (and see someone with an AK-47 strapped around their neck saying don't come down this street anymore… and we've had a few of those incidents happen.)

Jonathan Linden: And you mentioned the San Bernardino County Sheriff, Shannon Dicus, and how he launched operation hammer strike. Have you had conversations with him about this because this has been a big thing that he's been pushing since he took office last fall?

Smitty Smith: We've been working together very well with that with him and the County Board of Supervisors to start. There's another program they're going to start trying to do because you can only eradicate the marijuana, they can't tear down the structure, the greenhouse, the water pipes, or any of that stuff... (they want to start) being able to eradicate the structures, put a lien on the property for whatever cost for the cleanup and mitigation. We're trying to do legislation up here in regards to water theft, (that would make it a felony.) So, we are working very close together (with the problems) that we have out there. (I could tell you some of the statistics on the illegal groves as well.)

Jonathan Linden: What are some of the stats that you have for the issue?

Smitty Smith: Well, on an average, they've taken almost 4,150 plants (every week.) That's 116,155 pounds of marijuana in seven months that the county has eradicated. If you do the math, if it's between $2,500 and $3,000 per pound, it's over $300 million in products seized. Even if it's as low as $1,000 a pound, it's still $1.2 million on a average weekly (basis) that the county is taking off the streets. So, the $500 Fine, you can understand that that's you know, that's nothing, literally a drop in the bucket. They've seized a lot of guns, and currently, the total cash seized in seven months is $3.4 million.

Jonathan Linden was a reporter at 91.9 KVCR in San Bernardino, California. He joined KVCR in July 2021 and served with the station till October 2022.