KERN COUNTY – When the Kern County Sheriff’s Office received a tip that several large hemp cultivation sites in Arvin were actively cultivating cannabis rather than hemp, they called upon California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) wardens and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents for assistance with their investigation.
On October 25, 2019, a search warrant was executed at 11 different fields in the Arvin area, amounting to more than 459 acres of land. Law enforcement officers seized and eradicated approximately 10 million marijuana plants. These plants had an estimated value of more than $1 billion on the black market.
According to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, the illegal marijuana gardens were grown under the guise of legitimate hemp production. The Food and Agricultural Code and Health and Safety Code define industrial hemp as containing less than 0.3% THC content. A research exemption allows for cultivators to grow and possess hemp/cannabis that is over 0.3% THC content, “if that cultivation or possession contributes to the development of types of industrial hemp that will comply with the three-tenths of 1 percent THC limit established in this division.” This provision does not allow the commercial sale of hemp or cannabis that is over this threshold.
Preliminary testing showed the levels of THC in these fields were well over the legal limit for industrial hemp production and were in fact cannabis. The investigation is ongoing.
“Law enforcement officers and departments often find themselves in new territory when it comes to cannabis investigations, given new legal marijuana laws,” said California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) President Alan Barcelona. “Combining the expertise of local, state and federal law enforcement greatly assists these types of investigations.”