Other Voices: Narcotics Task Force works to keep county safe
Since the passage of Proposition 215, which established a legal defense for possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes, law enforcement has faced many challenges dealing with illegal cultivation and possession of the drug.
Locally, the District Attorney’s Office has established suggested guidelines for medical marijuana which includes possession of up to six mature plants or up to 75 square feet of vegetative canopy growing at any given time. That amount must be reasonably related to the individual’s doctor’s recommendation. Additionally, the person should not possess more than two pounds of processed marijuana at any given time.
Furthermore, the DA has requested when a garden is grown for medical purposes and exceeds the guidelines or the medical recommendation that the garden be removed by law enforcement. Our goal is to secure voluntary compliance, effected by growers staying within the guidelines.
The Nevada County Narcotics Task Force applies these guidelines in every investigation involving marijuana. Generally speaking, the majority of our contacts with the public involving medical marijuana fall within the guidelines and our officers walk away from the gardens. However, we have a significant number of cases whereby we conduct extensive investigations that involve “illegal” marijuana gardens, and in the majority of these investigations, we secure search warrants signed by a judge. Other investigations may come as the result of parole/probation searches, which reveal illegal marijuana growing operations.
During these searches, we find gardens which far and away exceed the guidelines, many posted with multiple and duplicate recommendations. It is also common to find other illicit drugs, large numbers of guns, scales and packaging materials, and large quantities of cash.
Currently, marijuana sells on the open market for $4,000 to $6,000 per pound, with a single plant producing an average of one to two pounds. If you have 30 plants, that’s a potential revenue of $360,000.
However, what we are finding in our investigations are gardens that exceed hundreds of plants. As is evident, these gardens are for profit, and the growers attempt to conceal their profits by banking with a variety of financial institutions, by making cash purchases of new vehicles and precious coins, giving the profits to others to hold, and even “burying” the profits.
The Narcotics Task Force’s goal is to control the flow of illegal drugs on the streets of our community, and hopefully out of the reach of our kids and schools. Their mission is a daunting task, and one they take seriously. To compound the problem, in many of their investigations involving marijuana, other illicit drugs, such as methamphetamine, are found.
The majority of investigations are forwarded to the District Attorney for prosecution. However, the sentencing practices of state courts into programs such as “Drug Court” and “Prop 36 Court,” have significantly reduced the punitive results of illegal marijuana cultivation and sales.
Additionally, we have seen a large number of offenders who avoid jail time while participating in these programs and involve themselves in subsequent criminal activity. Therefore, we have begun working closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the DEA in handling the larger and more serious cases to ensure more appropriate sentencing outcomes.
The reality is, if you’re sentenced in federal court on drug charges, the chances are you will receive substantial prison time, as opposed to local court, where you might receive a treatment program and no jail time.
Proposition 215 has “muddied the water” in respect to law enforcement’s mission to curtail illegal marijuana activity in California. We are put in a position wherein state law and federal law are in opposition, making our job more difficult and litigious. We appreciate the support of the community as we work to make Nevada County a safe and enjoyable place to live, work and play.
Keith Royal is the Nevada County sheriff.
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