California law enforcement seized and destroyed nearly one million illegally-grown cannabis plants this fiscal year, valued at over $1.5 billion, as part of its Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) program.
California has been running the CAMP program since 1983. But when voters legalized cannabis in 2016, the program switched its focus to cracking down on black market weed farms, while allowing licensed cannabis producers to grow in peace. During the 2019 fiscal year, CAMP authorities raided 345 illegal grow sites, destroying 953,459 illegal plants — which is up from 614,267 plants seized last year.
Authorities estimated the total value of the seized plants at around $1.5 billion, based on an average wholesale price of $1,600 per plant. However, Jerred Kiloh, president of the United Cannabis Business Association, told the Associated Press that because wholesale costs are doubled for the retail market, this estimate should also be doubled. By Kiloh's logic, that means the value of the seized plants came in closer to $3 billion — almost matching the $3.1 billion that the state's legal market is expected to sell this year.
At a press conference on Monday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that police arrested 148 people and seized 168 weapons during this year's raids. “Illegal cannabis grows are devastating our communities,” said Becerra in a statement. “Criminals who disregard life, poison our waters, damage our public lands, and weaponize the illegal cannabis black market will be brought to justice.”
“Throughout the course of this year’s operations, CAMP teams protected public resources against misuse and safeguarded public land and water from illegal pesticides,” the press release explains. “The sites, loaded with trash, banned pesticides such as carbofuran, methyl parathion, aluminum phosphate, and illegal fertilizers, discharge large quantities of these harmful products into the waterways of California.”
Gallery — Tons of Seized Weed That No One Is Smoking Except Cops:
Although cannabis is legally available for sale throughout the state, Californians are expected to spend as much as $8.1 billion on black market weed this year. Insiders believe that high prices and lack of availability of legal weed are the main factors driving customers to buy pot from illegal sources. Black market producers are able to sell weed for much lower prices than legal growers, as they do not have to pay taxes or shoulder the financial burden of testing or compliance.
"Regulators are ambivalent, publicly supporting the value of moving cannabis out of the illicit market and redressing the harms prohibition has done — such as overincarceration of minorities for minor possession offenses — but they have often proved unwilling to allow enough stores and keep regulatory and tax costs low enough to make the legal market competitive," said a report by industry analysts Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics states, according to Blue Ridge Public Radio.
California authorities seem to remain committed to solving this problem via law enforcement rather than regulation. This fiscal year, CAMP raids will continue, and the number of seized plants is expected to skyrocket. In one single raid last week, cops destroyed 10 million illegal weed plants, valued at around $1 billion, that were disguised as a hemp plantation.