In this file photo, an illegal marijuana grow recently busted in north Bakersfield by the Kern County Sheriff’s Office can be seen.
As the coronavirus pandemic has made working from home more widespread, an influx of coastal residents have flocked to Bakersfield, eyeing cheap home prices. But others have also set their sights on Bakersfield’s affordable property market, and local law enforcement agencies are struggling to keep up.
Illegal cannabis grows represent a significant challenge for Bakersfield and Kern County police. Despite marijuana being legal throughout California, both the Bakersfield City Council and Kern County Supervisors have banned the sale and cultivation of the product. Only California City and Arvin have allowed cannabis businesses to open legally.
However, just like Angelenos hoping to trade in their cramped homes for more spacious (and cheaper) residences in Bakersfield, cannabis growers have also targeted the area for their own illicit purposes.
In February, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office confiscated nearly $30 million worth of marijuana plants from allegedly illegal grows operating out of metro Bakersfield. As part of the busts, KCSO arrested seven individuals from the Los Angeles area suspected of being involved in the grows, with another individual coming from Russia and one from Bakersfield.
Despite the eye-catching numbers, the Sheriff’s Office estimates there are dozens more in the surrounding community that have yet to be identified.
“I don’t think we’re even scratching the surface as far as I’m concerned,” said KCSO Lt. Raul Murrillo.
With a higher profit margin by operating out of Bakersfield, cultivators can grow the cannabis in industrial warehouses or even residences before shipping the product throughout the United States. “Just about everybody” KCSO does identify comes from outside the county, according to the department.
“Their end reward, if they were able to successfully cultivate and harvest several hundred pounds of marijuana, and traffic it out of the state, they can make millions of dollars off of it,” said KCSO Sgt. John Coleman.
Law enforcement points to complaints from neighboring residents, along with concerns over waste disposal and violence as reasons why illegal grow sites should be targeted, but legitimate marijuana growers also point out the black market damages the legal one. By siphoning customers away from legal pot, licensed growers and dispensaries have a harder time surviving. When one takes into account the expense associated with complying with state regulations and paying taxes, the difficulty becomes even greater.
Published: March 07, 2021