Illegal cannabis grow in Santa Maria cited for environmental crimes

May 21, 2021

Santa Barbara County authorities are conducting an ongoing investigation into alleged environmental crimes found at an illegal cannabis grow site in Santa Maria.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, or CDFW, announced Wednesday that it partnered with the Sheriff's Department to serve the warrant at the cultivation site on Tepusquet Road in Santa Maria last month.

The site is considered an environmentally sensitive area that is home to native plants, fish and wildlife species. So, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors prohibits commercial cannabis cultivation on the land.

The CDFW said scientists documented several environmental violations on the site.

Janice Mackey is a public information officer for the cannabis program at the CDFW.

She said the cannabis program issues permits for the regulatory cannabis market and addresses illegal cultivation activities. She said the environmental disturbance found at the Santa Maria grow site could have been mitigated through permitting.

“We do a lot to eliminate some of those practices so the natural resources surrounding the grow will have the least amount of impact,” Mackey said.

Mackey said the growers at the illegal site altered the nearby streambed and also placed potentially harmful materials near the stream.

She said scientists also found waste stockpiled around the tributary that could all have long-term effects on the surrounding environment.

“Just having general trash and rubbish near a streambed is never a good idea,” Mackey said. “Plastics and all sorts of construction material should not be entering a stream channel. That could obstruct the flow and be harmful to the ecosystem there.”

Mackey said in this case, the land owner is responsible for cleaning up the disturbance because the cultivation site is on private property. She said the CDFW only gets involved if the cleanup effort is on public land.

In a statement, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said he appreciates the partnership with the CDFW to end the cultivation. He echoed the need to preserve the environment and added that illegal grows create unfair competition for legal cannabis operations in the county.

Authorities destroyed nearly 8,000 plants and more than 300 pounds of illegally processed cannabis flower.