Over the past month, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Dept. has made extensive efforts to nip marijuana growth in the bud.
The Sheriff’s Dept. Narcotics Bureau has extended the marijuana removal season, which usually ends Sept. 1, into October. A Sheriff’s Dept. press release said the department, in conjunction with a Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) task force, has already seized over 2,000 plants, estimated to be worth a total of between $6.8 and $9 million. Officers eradicated plants in the Los Padres National Forest area, as well as on West and East Camino Cielo and Arroyo Burro Roads, Sheriff’s Dept. spokesman Erik Raney said.
Raney said that, despite the large number of plants the Sheriff’s Dept. has already seized, police are still searching the county for more.
“[Our department] has identified more places to be eradicated, and we expect the harvest season to go through October,” Raney said.
Because federal statutes override state and local statutes, Raney said, federal law now requires the Sheriff’s Dept. to seize and destroy the plants – usually by burying them.
“Bottom line is, federal laws tie the hands of state or local laws,” Raney said. “State and local statutes are allowed to be more restrictive [than federal laws]. But any ordinance, state or local, cannot be less restrictive [than federal laws].”
For the Sheriff’s Dept., identifying the people who cultivate the marijuana is less of a priority than the actual destruction of the illegal plants, Raney said.
“Keeping [marijuana] off the streets is the main goal,” he said. “The identification of growers is not as much of a concern as the eradication itself.” Brad Odom, a tabling director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) at UCSB, said if one of the growers was to be identified as a UCSB student, his or her financial aid status could be put in jeopardy.
“UCSB students are definitely gonna take a blow,” Odom said. “If you get one infraction of marijuana possession, you cannot get financial aid anymore. It will mess up people for no good reason.” Co-chair of NORML Brendan Hamme said he thinks the eradication effort is questionable because the officers may confiscate medicinal marijuana crops, in addition to plants grown for illegal purposes. He said a recent Supreme Court ruling, Gonzalez v. Reich, states that federal law supercedes state law for the purposes of medicinal marijuana use.
“These marijuana seizures… fall under the category of distribution and cultivation laws,” Hamme said. “Sheriffs are bound to respect California law, first and foremost.”