Illegal marijuana grows threaten Antelope Valley’s way of life – Daily News

Illegal marijuana grows in the once-quiet Antelope Valley are a threat to California’s environmental goals and the safety of Californians.

These operations have caused an increase in human trafficking, assaults, and robberies and are responsible for the murders of at least five people living in our high desert community. These dire circumstances have united public officials against a common enemy—illicit growers. Assemblymember Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, and I held a recent helicopter tour and roundtable discussion with Attorney General Rob Bonta, local law enforcement, elected officials, and representatives of water agencies to bring new light and collaboration to the issue.

Since Californians voted to legalize marijuana in 2016, the international drug cartels have made the Mojave Desert and other high desert communities a favorite spot for large-scale illegal grows. While the secluded forests of Northern California are still popular for these sites, more and more criminals see an opportunity in the sprawling desert–vast amounts of sparsely populated space, lots of sun, and the presence of law enforcement is not as prevalent. The only thing lacking is water, but determined growers simply steal what they need.

An ‘historic’ bust in the Antelope Valley resulted in the seizures of 16 tons of illegal marijuana with a street value of $1.2 billion and highlighted how illegal growers contribute to a myriad of major problems that California faces.

While law-abiding residents face particularly intense drought conditions, illegal growers steal water, worsening the already-heavy strains on California’s water supply. The water thievery has reached record levels and is compromising the health and safety of our communities. In a 2021 news conference, a federal Drug Enforcement Agency agent calculated that “illegal grows in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties require an astounding 5.4 million gallons of water a day, every day.”

These illegal growers also blatantly disregard environmental concerns, leading to stripped-bare landscapes, deforestation, and wildfires, while their misuse of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers poisons the land and the groundwater that residents use to bathe and drink.

But the growers do not stop there. While many families and businesses are already feeling the crunch of today’s economy, legal growers are further pushed out of the market by illicit activity.

Illegal growers also play a part in our state’s concerning crime trends, as grows are highly lucrative, and the state’s increasingly ‘soft-on-crime’ policies guarantee no more than a slap on the wrist before prosecuted growers are sent back to their still-intact operations. The explosion in the Antelope Valley happened rapidly because the current top prosecutor in Los Angeles County refuses to go after perpetrators of these types of crimes. Sharing a space with heavily armed, violent, volatile drug traffickers is dangerous, and these criminals do not hesitate to threaten and intimidate anyone who impedes their operations.

Our local law enforcement teams have done an excellent job, but a multi-pronged effort that includes state, federal and local law enforcement entities is needed if we ever hope to take control of the problem and restore our high desert communities to the law-abiding citizens and businesses that belong here.

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