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Neighbors Shut Down Illegal Cannabis Grow

Disclosure: I am a Peace in Medicine patient. CBD-rich cannabis improves my health. I support cannabis growing that follows the rules and does not endanger creeks, wildlife, or neighbors. Yet our beloved county has one set of rules for food farmers, which are strictly enforced, and another set of lax rules for the cannabis industry. How fair is that?

My food farming neighbor here in Blucher Creek Watershed, Lari, emailed me on Aug. 7 to communicate that a new neighbor had just bulldozed a huge area and was constructing large cannabis grow buildings. I immediately visited him to view the site—a disaster to many life forms who depend on that water, including the listed endangered California freshwater shrimp, much wildlife, vegetation, and humans.

“What we saw was jaw dropping. Land cleared, all the topsoil pushed into the creek bed,” wrote Lari. The environmental consequences of that will be long-lasting and hard to remedy quickly, certainly not before the coming rains that farmers and others depend upon. Then plastic, silt, and sedimentation will flow freely down the creek, polluting it.

“They filled the tributary, so-needed for flood protection, with the land scraping. A 100-foot long building appeared, where three days prior had been a virgin field. Three more large building sites were cleared, with all the topsoil pushed into the riparian zone. Miles of plastic, barrels of chemicals, black piles of fertilizer, and they were moving in plants. We actually stood there, mouths agape! How can this happen?” added Lari.

No permits existed for this devastation. We reported this violation to various government officials and agencies, including Supervisors David Rabbitt and Lynda Hopkins. They responded promptly and effectively.

“Illegal grows are a huge concern, environmentally and socially,” wrote Supervisor Hopkins. “Unfortunately they give the folks who are doing the right thing (going through County permitting processes and growing in appropriate locations) a bad name,” she added.

On the next day, representatives from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board, the county’sPermit and Resources Management (PRMD), Supervisor Rabbitt’s office, and our Bloomfield/Lone Pine/Cunningham Neighborhood Association met at Lari’s farm. The government officials visited the grow, confirmed that it did not have the required permits, red tagged it, and shut it down.

The new owner then hired a real estate agent and put his property up for sale. When we reminded the agent that there needed to be full disclosure of what had been happening there, he took the “For Sale” sign down.

Another neighbor showed us an un-permitted grow nearby on Schaeffer Road. We also managed to get that operation red tagged and shut down. “Weeks ago, huge earth-moving equipment came onto the property that adjoins us, graded a large area and began to construct a massive greenhouse for commercial cannabis,” said a nearby neighbor. “This was done without a permit. Various neighbors filed complaints, and the County issued a stop-work order.

“Families with children live on both sides and just across the street. We are on wells and worry about the massive amount of water that a commercial cannabis operation consumes. If this is allowed to be completed and operate on the large commercial scale for which it is intended, we will have lost the safety, peace, and well-being our neighborhood has provided,” he added.

A meeting for the public to comment on cannabis growing will occur Sept. 27, Wed., 3 p.m., hosted by the Cannabis Program of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. Environmental and community protection should be part of that discussion. It will be at 2550 Ventura, Santa Rosa, at PRMD. We plan to go and hope that others will join us there and speak up. Since the room is relatively small, getting there early would be best.

Following are some of the things that I have learned:

- Hundreds of such un-permitted cannabis operations are popping up around the county. This endangers food farming, as well as the environment.

- These illegal growers often pump water from creeks. It can take up to 10-20 gallons a day per cannabis plant.

- These growers tend to select hidden rural areas and set up cameras.

To cannabis growers out there, please do it the right way. This not only benefits you financially, but also the environment, its many critters, and neighbors.

As Margaret Meade said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." and "We won't have a society if we destroy the environment."

We can provide assistance to others, including the names and contact information of the appropriate officials.

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