For California Cannabis, Civil is the New Criminal

cannabis lawyerCalifornia’s unlicensed farmers in Humboldt County are on notice, with a new crackdown on cannabis growing now in effect. After issuing 1,500 provisional cannabis licenses, state and local authorities are increasingly pursuing farmers for operating without permits.

And it’s not what we’ve seen in years past. Growers need not fear raids from Sheriffs in Humboldt, as much as they should civil action. That’s right, fines are now being issued in the amount of $10,000 per day, for each violation, capping out only at $900,000. And if that isn’t deterrent enough, next comes property liens and forfeitures.

Do you need help with notices to abate, property leins and forfeiture or civil fines? Our Southern California cannabis business lawyers are only a phone call away.

Violations Escalate Quickly
Once a violation is noted, recipients have ten days to remove their plants. And even if growers remove their plants that same day, they’ll still face a minimum $10,000 fine. Failing immediate removal, fines can run for up to 90 days, maxing out at $900,000, before growers face county collection action, and eventual property loss. Local industry insiders say a number of properties are now on the market simply because of their civil abatements.

This is not surprisingly having a wider effect, and breeding compliance, as no one wants to lose everything they’ve worked for.

Ramped Up Law Enforcement Activity
As a further deterrent, a combined effort by local and state authorities has resulted in intensified clamp downs on illicit cannabis businesses right across the state. In June this year, a four-day raid lead by the Santa Barbara County Sherrif resulted in the seizure of 20 tons of illegal marijuana. But this was no overnight occurrence. The operation took place only after a two-month long investigation conducted by an assortment of agencies.

Illegal growers are not the only targets as retail stores are on the radar too. The cannabis regulations law, Assembly Bill 97, which was passed in Sacramento in July, allows for fines of $30,000 per day if operating a marijuana storefront without a license. These fines are intended to target illicit stores in Los Angeles competing with legitimate business owners who’ve paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to operate lawfully.

How the Game Has Changed
These days, there’s nowhere for growers to hide. Satellite imagery spots grow structures from outer space and authorities use those images to determine who should be sent abatement notices for operating without cultivation licenses. In Santa Barbara, a newly created task force set up specifically for the purpose of combing  through cannabis license applications, compares those applications to satellite images to check for possible license fraud. And if found, that is grounds for abatement.

Civil Charges – Cheaper and Quicker
While criminal cases can be stretched out for years, often times to the advantage of a defendant, civil code violators have just ten days to appeal a notice to abate. If appeals are made, they are done so quickly, without a judge or jury, and with fairly loose rules surrounding evidence. So no matter how the case plays out, we see action and outcome affected almost immediately. Similarly, sending out 100 abatement letters could cost $49 in postage, while the overtime and man hours needed to carry out police raids can cost well into the millions of dollars.

The outcome of a move toward quick, punitive civil fines being issued in place of long, drawn out criminal trials, means offenders are now avoiding prison time. But they are also getting hit where it hurts business folk most – the pocketbook. This new brand of civil action is leaving offenders bankrupt and without their properties. The fact that criminal charges are being replaced with civil ones, shows that while the war on drugs continues, it has been civilized. And this civil action is closing down California’s long time illegal cannabis operators in a way that criminal prohibition could not. Put simply, civil court cases are faster, cheaper, easier and more effective to pursue, so we can expect to see a lot more of this strategy implemented in future.

About Cannabis Law Group

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers dispensaries, ancillary companies, patients and those facing criminal marijuana charges. Call us at 949-375-4734.

Additional Resources:
Assembly Bill 97 – The Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act of 2016 (AUMA)

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